MACON, Ga. – Early on in Tuesday night’s Atlantic Sun Quarterfinal between the Jacksonville University men’s basketball team and the Mercer Bears, it was abundantly clear that this was the third game between two programs that knew each other very well. Defenses were calling out plays before they were set in motion, shooters were closed out on and every loose ball sent bodies flying. In these types of games, it often isn’t the stars who determine the outcome, but the role players.
For Mercer, it was Anthony White Jr. who came through with 29 points – 10 more than his previous career high – to more than make up for the slow night from Langston Hall, the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year who scored only three points from the charity stripe. Though the Dolphins worked a 15-point second half deficit down to five, the Bears pulled away late in the game and advanced to the A-Sun Semifinals with an 85-64 win.
The Dolphins were scoreless for nearly the first three minutes and trailed, 4-0, but got on a roll and took off on an 8-0 run. Jarvis Haywood muscled into the paint for the opening bucket, followed by a three-pointer from Keith McDougald and a trey from Haywood. Mercer ended up going five full minutes in between baskets, but finally got its offense going again from behind the arc. Jakob Gollon started it off with a triple from near the top of the key, and that was followed by three treys in a row from Bud Thomas to put the Bears on top, 16-8.
To their credit, the Dolphins didn’t fold in front of the frenzied home crowd. Down by eight, Jacksonville managed to trim it down to five at the final media timeout after J.R. Holder and Javon Dawson each scored inside to make it 27-22. The deficit was still just five after Dawson dunked home an alley-oop from Vince Martin that put the score at 33-28, but Mercer would score the final four points of the half and go into the break ahead, 37-28.
Clearly the Bears wanted to come out strong in the second half and put the game away quickly, but Jacksonville refused to go away. A White Jr. three-ball and layup from TJ Hallice gave Mercer a 51-36 advantage with 15:28 remaining, but that signaled a turnaround for the Dolphins. It started with a Martin three-pointer, then continued as a Mercer turnover led to Martin getting fouled on another three-point attempt and hitting all three foul shots. Another turnover gave Jacksonville another quick opportunity and McDougald cashed in from deep to make it a 9-0 run and cut the Mercer lead down to 51-45. Hallice temporarily stopped the bleeding with another layup, only for Martin to find the range from downtown again. With 12 minutes remaining, JU had momentum on its side and the crowd inside Hawkins Arena feeling the pressure.
A Mercer response was to be expected, but a cold spell from the Dolphins was not. Coming out of the under-12 timeout, White Jr. hit a pair at the line to re-establish a seven-point cushion. After a series of empty possessions on both sides, an offensive rebound gave Thomas a chance to bury a shot from behind the arc, which he did for a 58-48 edge. White Jr. then got into the paint and scored, Hall got his first two points of the night at the line, and finally, a Jacksonville turnover gave White Jr. an open look from the left corner for a back-breaking three-pointer to put the Bears up, 65-48. Though seven minutes remained, the Dolphins would get no closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
White Jr.’s career night was helped along by 18 from Thomas, all from beyond the arc. Gollon was the other Bear in double-figures, scoring 10 on the night.
Martin led Jacksonville’s attack with 17 points, knocking down four three-pointers on the night. Haywood added 15 and McDougald had 10. Dawson ended the night with nine points and tied for game-high honors with nine rebounds.
“I thought our guys played very hard the entire time,” said Head Coach Cliff Warren. “I’m very proud of their effort and this one game does not define our team, does not define our season. I’m proud of the players we have in that locker room.”
Jacksonville ends the season at 12-18, while Mercer improves to 24-8 and will host USC Upstate on Thursday night in an Atlantic Sun Semifinal.