Georgia Basketball: 2014 Tourney Darling Mercer Bears to Visit Bulldogs


Georgia basketball invites the Mercer Bears in for a pre-conference tune up Saturday.

Date: 12/27/2014

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Tipoff Time

: 6:00 PM

Venue: Stegeman Coliseum, Athens GA

Radio: Georgia Bulldog Sports Network from IMG, in Atlanta WSB (750 AM) and WSBB (95.5 FM). In Athens: WRFC (AM 960)


History: Georgia Baptists founded Mercer as a boys’ preparatory school in 1833 in Penfield, GA, on the strength of a Josiah Penfield gift of a $2,500 to the Georgia Baptist Convention. The University now has more than 8,300 students.

Conference: Southern (first season)

Coach: Bob Hoffman came to Mercer as head coach in 2008. Previously he served as head woman’s coach at Southern Nazarene, men’s head coach at his alma mater (1979) Oklahoma Baptist, men’s head coach University of Texas Pan American, men’s assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma, head coach of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, an NBA Developmental League franchise, and head coach of the American Basketball Association’s Arkansas Aeros.

Last year: Mercer 27-9 (14-4 Atlantic Sun) and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Round of 32, upsetting Duke in the first round.

This year: Mercer lost all five of last year’s starters and returns seven letter winners from last year’s team. Preseason polls conducted among coaches and among the media predicted Mercer to finish fourth in the Southern Conference. Chattanooga, which Georgia defeated in Chattanooga, was predicted to place second in both polls.

The only starter averaging in double figures on the season is junior guard Ike Nwamu ( 6’5” 2015) with 18 points in 34 minutes a night with 6 rebounds per game.

Mercer’s other starters are senior forward Darious Moten (6’6” 215), 30 minutes, 9 points, 5 rebounds per game; senior forward T. J. Halice (6’10” 220), 32 minutes, 9 points, 6 rebounds per game; junior guard Jibri Bryan (6’4” 185) 32 minutes, 9 points, 4 rebounds per game; junior guard Phillip Leonard (6’2” 200) 29 minutes, 9 points, 5 assists per game and only 1 turnover on the season.

Star watchers may want to keep an eye on the stands. Coming off the bench for 12 minutes and four points a game this season is Jordan Strawberry of Los Angeles, son of former major leaguer Darryl Strawberry.

Nwamu is the Bears best player. But replacing all five starters from last year, there are too many questions about this team.

The Bulldog cagers will likely start Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines, Juwan Parker, Marcus Thornton and Nemi Djurisic. Yante Maten started in place of Djurisic against Seton Hall. Maten played well while Djusrisic’s performance reflected his recent bout with the flu and Maten could start again.

Mercer lost to Seton Hall 63-47 in Newark, NJ. Georgia defeated Seton Hall 65 – 47 in Athens. Mercer lost its last game to Tennessee 64 – 54 in a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tourney game, which was also won by Tennessee.

Statistically there are no dramatic differences between the two teams, but the 6 – 3 Dawgs are ranked 12th in schedule difficulty and the 6 – 6 Bears are ranked 336th in schedule difficulty nationally. While the Bears competed against Tennessee in Knoxville on Monday night before falling 64-54, no one is going to confuse this Mercer team with the Mercer team that played into the round of 32 in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

If results against common opponents and comparative schedules are meaningful, the Bulldogs will win this game. More significant for Dawg fans than the outcome, will Charles Mann continue to adjust to his growing role at the 3 spot, will J. J. Frazier’s build on his showing against Seton Hall, and will Juwan Parker continue to grow as a scorer and ball handler? The Bears will start two senior forwards and this game is an opportunity for Houston Kessler to command more playing time as the Bulldogs begin to make the turn into conference play.