Mercer upsets Wofford in SoCon Men’s Tournament quarterfinal, 62-61


ASHEVILLE, N.C. (Wofford SID) – The Wofford men’s basketball team used a gutsy second-half performance to climb back from a 17-point halftime deficit and take a late lead with just over a minute to play on Saturday evening, though, the seventh-seeded Mercer Bears (17-10, 8-9 SoCon) would manage to find the answer and secure a pair of late stops to drop the Terriers in the quarterfinals of the Ingles Southern Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament presented by General Shale Brick, 62-61, at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

Wofford overcame leads as large as 19 points throughout the contest and outscored the Bears 38-22 for the second half, though, the Terriers’ rally ultimately came up short to conclude Wofford’s season with a 15-9 overall record and 12-5 Southern Conference mark.

“Congratulations to Mercer, they were a tough team and the better team today,” said head coach Jay McAuley. “Unfortunately, we didn’t turn on our boosters until the second half. We had too many defensive breakdowns and let them go downhill to the basket way too much.”

“We had a good comeback, but in the end, we didn’t make enough shots,” added McAuley. “On our last three possessions, we didn’t execute very well.”

The Bears will face the winner of No. 3 Furman versus No. 6 VMI in Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. semifinals matchup at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center.

Senior Storm Murphy led the Terriers with a game-high 21 points, hitting four threes on the night to pair with five rebounds and three assists in a game-high 37 minutes. The performance marked Murphy’s 10th 20-point game of the season, while also marking his 15th performance hitting three of more 3-pointers.

“This is not the outcome we wanted,” said Storm Murphy of the Wofford’s unfortunate end to the season. “I hurt for our guys and everyone in our program because we didn’t go out the right way. We came out and played the right way in the second half, but you can’t just do that for one half and expect to win.”

Sophomore Messiah Jones finished with 16 points, on 8-of-10 from the field, four rebounds, an assists and a steal. Jones concluded the season reaching his 11th game this season in double-figure scoring. Senior Tray Hollowell and freshman Morgan Safford both finished with six points apiece, both hitting two threes and recording three rebounds each, while Safford added three assists and a block in the contest.

Freshman Max Klesmit finished with five points, two steals and an assists and rebounds, as sophomore B.J. Mack recorded four points, two rebounds and a block in 11 mintues. Junior Ryan Larson rounds out Wofford’s contributions with three points, five rebounds, a team-high four assists and two steals.

The Terriers opened the contest with the advantage, seeing a 3-pointer from Morgan Safford on the left wing before Storm Murphy would bury a step-back over Mercer’s Neftali Alvarez for a brief 6-2 lead. The Bears then climbed back to take a 15-9 lead, after a Ross Cummings jumper and 3-pointer from Leon Ayers III, as Murphy answered with an and-one lay, converting at the line to see a 15-12 margin in Mercer’s favor over the opening 7:32 of play.

Mercer would begin clicking on all cylinders, collecting stops on the defensive end to fuel a 20-6 run that extended a 17-point deficit for the Terriers and by the 5:45 mark, 35-18.

The Bears scored five straight before an Alvarez finish pushed their first double-digit lead at 22-12 (10:27). Messiah Jones found Tray Hollowell for a trifecta to answer, though, Mercer’s Haase returned the favor on the following possession to hold the 10-point margin (25-15). The Bears then rallied for 10 of the following 13 points, seeing a Murphy trey in the mix, to summon the 35-18 spread.

Max Klesmit came out the under-four media timeout burying a three to cut the deficit to 14, 35-21, though, the Bears managed to extend their largest lead of the contest at 40-21 after Mercer’s Jeff Gary connected on his third and Bears’ fifth trey of the half with 1:11 to play. A Jones layup from Austin Patterson then capped the scoring for the half, sending both teams to the locker rooms with Wofford trailing 40-23.

The Bears finished the first half plus-11 on the boards (25-14), shooting 51.5 percent (17-of-33) from the field while connecting on 41.7 percent of their looks from beyond the arc (5-of-12).

22 of Wofford’s 32 first-half attempts came from long distance, as the Terriers struggled to find a rhythm in hitting just 6-of-22 shots from 3-point range over the opening 20 minutes (27.3%).

Wofford’s veteran duo of Storm Murphy and Tray Hollowell paced the Terriers’ scoring attack with nine and six points, respectively, in the first half.

Wofford opened the second half with the first six-straight points, cutting the Mercer lead to single digits, 40-32, after a Safford trey and back-to-back lays for Messiah Jones (17:54).

The two squads would trade baskets over a five-minute span, seeing the Bears hold on to a 13-point edge by the under-12 media timeout, 51-38, as Wofford would dig deep over an eight-minute span for a spirited 21-6 scoring run that claimed the Terriers’ first lead since 18:13 of the first half at 59-57 with 3:57 left to play.

The Terriers sparked the run after four points from Jones and Max Klesmit jumped a pass at half-court for a steal and layup to close in, 51-44 (10:04). Ryan Larson would then dish to Storm Murphy on back-to-back threes, as the Terriers’ momentum continued to build trailing just 53-50 with 8:01 left.

A Jeff Gary pull-up ensued, as Larson connected from deep on the next possession before recording a steal on the defensive end that allowed for B.J. Mack to knot the game at 55-55 by the 5:57 mark. Messiah Jones then gave the Terriers the lead after corralling a missed Murphy layup for a tip-in, while B.J. Mack free throws held a late 61-59 advantage for Wofford with 1:08 to play.

Mercer’s Alvarez, however, would unfortunately net a crucial and-one on the next trip down, converting at the line to grant the Bears a one-point advantage with 55 second left, 62-61.

A Hollowell look from beyond the arc would fall off the mark on the other end, as Wofford exhausted four fouls over an eight-second span to put the Bears in the bonus with 19 seconds on the clock. Felipe Haase would come out of a 30-second timeout missing the front end of the one-and-one, as the Terriers corralled the rebound for a last shot opportunity.

Murphy scrambled off multiple ball-screens to look for a shot, as Alvarez poked the ball in the process, seeing Morgan Safford end up with possession with just 1.4 seconds left. Safford attacked the paint for an off-balance layup with contact that would unfortunately come off the rim to allow Mercer to advance with the 62-61 victory at the horn.

Wofford was 15-for-29 from the field in the second half (51.7%), as the Terriers finished 37.7 percent from the floor for the game (23-of-61) and 27.8 percent from beyond the arc (10-of-36).

Despite the rough shooting night from deep, the Terriers hit 10 threes for the 14th contest this season – ranked 10th in the nation with a 10.3 three-per-game average. Additionally, Wofford was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free-throw line in the contest.

Mercer finished steady on the night, connecting on 45.8 percent of its looks from the field (27-for-59), while hitting 6-of-18 from 3-point range on the night (33.3%). The Bears finished the contest plus-seven on the boards (38-31) and outscored the Terriers in points inside the paint (34-22), second chance points (15-6) and bench points (18-9).

The Bears were led by Leon Ayers III with 16 points, while Jeff Gary (14) and Neftali Alvarez (13) round out the double-figure scorers for Mercer.

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