Mercer men’s hoops falls to ULM in CBI Quarterfinals
Mercer’s bid at a fourth-straight 20-win season fell just short as ULM took its first lead of the night with 49 seconds to play. The Warhawks moved to 23-12 on the year and advanced to the CBI semifinals, while the Bears’ year concluded with a 19-16 record.
Junior Ike Nwamu paced Mercer with 20 points on the strength of five 3-pointers, while classmates Jestin Lewis and Jibri Bryan netted 12 and 10, respectively. The Bears tied a season-high with 10 3-pointers, but missed their final five 3-point attempts, including two inside the final 19 seconds.
Mercer led by as many as 20 early on in the second half and maintained a double-digit lead until ULM got within eight on the heels of an 8-2 run with 12:29 to go. The Warhawks would get as close six before Nwamu splashed the Bears’ 10th 3-pointer of the night to put the hosts ahead 66-56 with 5:49 to play.
Mercer’s shooting went cold from there, as six consecutive missed field goals allowed ULM to tie the game at 67-67 with 1:14 to go. ULM senior Tylor Ongwae nailed a straightaway 3 to earn the tie, and then forced a steal and went the distance for a layup and a 69-67 lead.
Another Bears turnover and a free throw moved the buffer to three, and junior Jibri Bryan couldn’t connect on a triple that would have tied the game with 19 seconds to go. Mercer was forced to intentionally foul and had life late as ULM’s Majok Deng missed the second of two tosses and junior Phillip Leonard went coast-to-coast for a layup.
Leonard was fouled and missed the ensuing free throw, but freshman Stephon Jelks tracked down the offensive board with 10 seconds left and the Bears trailing 71-69. In the closing seconds, Nwamu launched a 3 that was off mark and the Warhawks prevailed.
Nwamu hit 5-of-13 from beyond the arc while Lewis was 3-of-5 and Bryan was 2-of-7. The Bears were 7-of-13 on 3’s in the first half and 3-of-16 from beyond in the second half.
Leonard finished with nine points and three assists while Bryan grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Senior T.J. Hallice scored four and tallied seven rebounds, four assists and a block.
Mercer hit its first four 3-pointers of the night to bust open a 14-4 lead just 4:19 into the game. While the Bears were red-hot at the outset, ULM was just the opposite with 2-of-11 aim on field goals to start the game.
The Warhawks employed a 12-3 run to cut the margin to one, but the Bears responded with a 10-0 surge sparked by back-to-back Bryan field goals to move back ahead 27-16 with 7:43 to play in the period.
ULM got back within eight before the Bears closed the half on a 9-2 run to take a 42-27 lead into the break. The advantage grew to 20 early on in the second half on as Lewis’ third 3-pointer of the night staked the Bears to their biggest lead at 48-28.
Monday’s loss marked the finish for the collegiate careers of Hallice and classmate Darious Moten. Moten suffered a season-ending injury in the Southern Conference Tournament and missed the final three games of the year.
Hallice and Moten went 97-48 and made four-straight postseason appearances in Orange and Black. The duo combined for 1,128 points and 647 career rebounds.