NASHVILLE, Tenn. (School Release)- The Mercer men's basketball team looks to keep pace in the race for an Atlantic Sun regular season championship on Saturday, traveling to Nashville to take on Lipscomb at Allen Arena. Game time between the Bears and Bisons is slated for 7:30 p.m.
Despite falling to Northern Kentucky on Thursday night, the Bears are just one game out of first place in the league standings. Mercer's 12-9 (5-3 A-Sun) ledger has the Bears looking up at Jacksonville (11-10, 6-2 A-Sun) and Stetson (9-10, 6-2 A-Sun).
The Bisons have won two of their last three games and enter Saturday's game with an 8-11 (3-5 A-Sun) mark. At Allen Arena, Lipscomb is 5-3 overall with league wins over Kennesaw State and East Tennessee State.
Four of Lipscomb's five starters are averaging double-figure scoring, led by sophomore forward Malcolm Smith's 12.1 points per game. Senior guard Deonte Alexander and freshman center Stephen Hurt contribute 11.9 and 11.8 points per game, respectively, while sophomore forward Martin Smith chips in 10.3 points per game.
In his first year of collegiate basketball, Hurt has made an immediate impact on the Atlantic Sun landscape. He ranks among the league's top-20 players in scoring average (18th), rebounding average (2nd - 8.3), field goal percentage (8th - 51.3%), free-throw percentage (13th - 68.4%) and blocked shots per game (15th - 0.6). He's also been named the A-Sun Newcomer of the Week three times this year.
The Bisons return three starters from last year's team that finished 13-18 (8-10 A-Sun). In the A-Sun Preseason Coaches Poll, Lipscomb was picked to finish eighth.
Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman is only one win away from his 400th victory as a collegiate men's basketball head coach. The only A-Sun coach with more is USC Upstate's Eddie Payne (411).
Mercer has a team free-throw percentage of 76.8%, ranking sixth in the nation and best among A-Sun teams. Junior Langston Hall (87.2%) and senior Travis Smith (87%) are the most accurate free-throw shooters in the conference.
After only reaching double figures once in Mercer's first 15 games, Bud Thomas has topped 10 points in six of the last seven games. He's averaging 11.1 points per game over that span, in comparison with 4.2 points per game prior to. On Thursday evening, Thomas led the team with 16 points and hit a career-high five three-pointers.
Lipscomb leads the all-time series with Mercer 12-9, but the Bears have claimed victories in each of the last five meetings. Those wins include A-Sun tournament first round games in each of the last two seasons. The last time Lipscomb bested Mercer was December 4, 2010 at Allen Arena.