Thursday night provided a much needed break from conference play for the Mercer Bears, after dropping two tight contests to Belmont and Lipscomb at home. Taking on the Division II Piedmont Lions, guard E.J. Kusnyer scored a career high 26 points to lead Mercer (4-5, 0-2 ASun) past the outmatched Lions (3-3-) 87-62.
Breaking a four game losing streak, Mercer took the court with a vengeance and some hot shooting 53.1 percent from the floor at the half in route to a 42-21 lead. Kusnyer especially appeared to be in midseason form, hitting five shots from the perimeter in the first half to spark a 16-0 run on Piedmont.
Although the scoreboard was lopsided at the intermission, Piedmont’s second half effort saw a two-fold increase in offensive production, as Mercer only maintained their 20-point lead for the remainder of the game.
Also shooting above 50 percent for the second half, the Lions were lead by post J.C. Herbia’s 15 points and eight rebounds, while teammates Michael Rubio and Tyler Arnold chipped in 12 and 11 points respectively.
On the other side of the court, Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman was able to employ the services of his entire bench, as eight players amassed double digit minutes and as thirteen players saw playing time.
While Mercer’s Kusnyer had the hot hand on the night, first team All-Atlantic Sun selection James Florence seemed to have a streaky night shooting, hitting only four of his 12 shots to finish with 14 points. Forward Daniel Emerson also scored 14 points with 10 rebounds while junior Brian Mills tallied a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“We played great defense in the first half and were talking to each other and had a lot of activity on that end of the court,” said Hoffman after the game. “I was disappointed in the second half though as Piedmont came out with a renewed energy. We didn’t respond well,” he added on MercerBears.com.
On his twitter account, Florence commented, “Good team win tonight but we still have a lot to figure out. Haven’t won a close game yet this season.” Mercer will have a chance at getting that ‘big’ win as they did a year ago over Alabama and Auburn as they take on Vanderbilt in Nashville on December 21st.
The next five games for the Bears, all on the road, could shape the rest of their season as they travel to Alabama, UNC-Charlotte, Jacksonville, and North Florida after the Vanderbilt contest.