MACON, Ga. – Fresh off its stunning road win at Alabama on Sunday, Mercer will attempt to claim its second major upset of the week in the state of Alabama as the Bears visit Auburn in the first round of the Chicago Invitational Challenge at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. (eastern).
“Even though [Alabama] was a great win, the most important thing for us is to stay consistent in our approach to the game,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “We want to continue to get better and concentrate on the little things in practice because that’s what will help us in the long run.”
Wednesday’s game marks the second meeting in as many seasons between Mercer and Auburn, with each looking to stay unbeaten. The Bears are 2-0 in the early going, while Auburn posted a season-opening 75-60 home win over Missouri State last Friday.
Mercer pulled away in the second half to post a season-opening win past Piedmont last Friday. Then, in Tuscaloosa, the Bears’ Calvin Henry hit a heavily-contested layup with less than 13 seconds remaining and James Florence followed with two free throws to boost Mercer past the Crimson Tide, 72-69, on Sunday.
Auburn, in the midst of a four-game homestand to open the season, saw Korvotney Barber equal a career-high 22 points en route to leading the Tigers to their win past Missouri State. The Tigers were a preseason pick to finish fifth in the Southeastern Conference’s competitive Western Division after finishing 14-16 in 2007-08.
The Tigers’ strength this season may well be their veteran backcourt, and Jeff Lebo’s squad boasts a trio of seniors back this season with considerable experience on the hardwood. Barber is back after missing all but 10 games last season due to a broken hand. He was leading the nation in shooting percentage (72.0) when he suffered the injury on Dec. 29 against Towson. The Manchester, Ga., native was a preseason All-SEC second team honoree heading into this season.
The senior guard duo of Quantez Robertson and Rasheem Barrett started all 30 games for Auburn last season, while guard DeWayne Reed drew a starting assignment 23 times as a sophomore last year. Barrett has scored 1,069 points in his career and now ranks 25th in the Tigers’ all-time list and Reed dished out four assists in the win over Missouri State. Two newcomers to the Tigers’ roster, Johnnie Lett and Tay Waller, both arrived via Okaloosa-Walton College and made an immediate impact by combining for 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists last Friday.
“Auburn is another big-time opponent and we have to remember that we won the last game by doing the little things well. “[Auburn] is really talented and can shoot the ball. They look to shoot a lot of 3s and they understand what they’re trying to accomplish.”
Mercer is looking to go 3-0 to open a season for the first time since the 1984-85 campaign, when Mercer defeated Augusta, Georgia College & State and Stetson. However Auburn snapped the Bears’ three game win streak last season with its 68-59 victory.
Through the first two games of the season, Florence is averaging a team-high 21 points per game, while junior Daniel Emerson is averaging a double-double with his 17 points and 12.5 rebounds a contest. Sophomore Brian Mills adds 11.5 points and seven boards off the bench.
The two school’s archived records differ on the series records, with Mercer showing a 19-15 advantage and AU noting that the series is tied at 15-15, but the records since the 1940s do agree that prior to a 92-88 win in 2000, Mercer dropped six straight to the Tigers in the 80s, including a narrow two-point loss in 1983 and a one-point decision in 1984, when the Bears captured the A-Sun Tournament crown. There have been lapses in meetings between the two schools of 16 years, 33 years, 12 years and seven years.
The Bears’ efforts have not gone unnoticed as Mercer received votes in both the latest Associated Press and the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 Polls and was named the Mid-Major Team of the Week by Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman.
Wednesday night’s game can be heard live on ESPN Radio, 105.5 The Fan, or via the internet at www.mercerbears.com. with Rick Cameron doing the play-by-play. The broadcast will air at 7:45 p.m. EST.