MACON, Ga. - In the most anticipated Atlantic Sun Conference game of the early season, the Mercer men's basketball team gave the home crowd exactly what it wanted. It took overtime, but the Bears were able to edge Florida Gulf Coast by a 77-70 margin on Wednesday to go to 2-0 in league play for the first time in six seasons.
Mercer (9-6, 2-0 A-Sun) moved to 6-0 in Hawkins Arena and 21-3 in the building over the last two years. Florida Gulf Coast (9-6, 1-1 A-Sun) dropped its second game in its last three outings.
Senior Travis Smith, the reigning A-Sun Player of the Week, paced the Bears' offense for the second-straight game with 21 points. His efficient seven-of-14 shooting night made him the first Mercer player to score 20 or more in two consecutive games since Brian Mills did it in March of 2011.
Juniors Langston Hall and Jakob Gollon both joined Smith in double figures with 17 and 12 points, respectively. Hall's 17 points came in conjunction with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals, while Gollon chipped in six rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block.
FGCU got out to a quick start thanks to the long ball, connecting on five of its first seven threes to build an eight point lead (23-15) midway through the first half. Mercer rallied back to tie the game at 28-28 before the Eagles closed out the opening period's scoring to take a 30-28 lead into halftime.
In the second half, the Bears and Eagles battled in a see-saw stretch that left the teams deadlocked at 48-48 with less than nine minutes to play. At the 7:54 juncture, Smith found junior Bud Thomas on the wing for a three ball that broke the tie and sparked a 12-4 Mercer charge.
In the final three minutes of regulation, FGCU rallied with a 10-2 surge, including a straightaway three from Filip Cvjeticanin with 26 seconds to go that tied matters at 62-62. With three seconds left, Hall's step-back jumper found iron and the game went to overtime.
Mercer drew first blood of the overtime period as Hall found Gollon for an open trey. From there, Mercer wouldn't surrender the lead. The biggest momentum play came as junior Daniel Coursey connected on a left-handed hook shot while being fouled. His subsequent free throw put Mercer on top by four with 1:40 remaining.
From that point on, Mercer held FGCU to just two points while Hall helped secure the victory with seven-of-eight shooting from the free throw line.
Mercer returns to A-Sun play at Kennesaw State on Saturday. Game time at the KSU Convocation Center is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.