Stevens: Lobos Face Challenge By Improved Mercer Team

Nov. 27, 2012

Toys For Tots Night: Fans that bring an unused/new toy at time of purchase will receive $5 tickets in bench rows 1-10 for Wednesday's game with Mercer.

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - In the Pit

Wednesday: 7 p.m., Mercer at New Mexico - Bob King Floor
On the Air: 770-AM KKOB - Lobo Radio Network; My50/Root Sports (TV) Lobo TV, Game Recap, Full Stats, Quotes, GameTracker

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

In Macon, Ga., they are calling it "arguably" the Mercer Bears biggest challenge of the young season.

They have to boldly go where no Mercer team has gone in 12 years -- into The Pit, a black hole for most travelers.

The Bears have to tangle with the No. 23/25 ranked team in the nation - the undefeated New Mexico Lobos.

If the Bears were paying attention to the Lobos during the Paradise Jam on the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bears realize they have a lot to worry about.

The Lobos won that Jam and took the title over a ranked UConn team. Mercer went 0-3, losing to two teams the Lobos beat.

And that Jam was not in The Pit.

For sure, the Bears got a good look at the Lobos. Ditto for Steve Alford, his staff and his Lobos.

"We saw them at the Paradise Jam and they played a really good game against George Mason," said Lobo Jamal Fenton. "They had (George Mason) down the whole game and then George Mason somehow pulled it out.

"Coach told us though, that Mercer didn't have their all-star point guard, and he should be back for our game. We saw them play over there. We know their faces and we'll be prepared for them."

Mercer's point guard Langston Hall made his season debut Sunday night in Mercer's 73-46 win over Furman. He had missed the first five games of the season nursing an ankle injury and did not play in the Paradise Jam.

The Bears also got the services of 6-foot-10 Daniel Coursey for the first time this year on Sunday. Hall started all 38 games last year and Coursey started 37. The Bears will need some size inside vs. UNM's 7-foot Alex Kirk and 6-9 Cameron Bairstow.

Obviously, the return of this duo gives the Bears a different look and makes them better. Hall had played in 70 consecutive games before his injury. The 6-foot-4 Hall had a quiet game Sunday vs. Furman with eight points, but he dished out seven assists.

Coursey had 10 points, so that duo combined for 18 points. The Bears also have two capable big men coming off the bench in 6-9 T.J. Halice, who averages 5.8 points and 4.0 boards, and 6-11 Monty Brown with a 5.0 scoring average.

The Bears don't wow you statistically. They have one player in double figures in 6-3 Travis Smith with an 11.0 average. But Mercer plays solid position defense, runs a smooth offense and typically takes good shots.

They are a shorter version of Lobos and, like the Lobos, usually get good production off their bench. They won a program record 27 games last year.

If you are into comparative scores, here are two that help bring this matchup into a foggy perspective:

Mercer appeared to have George Mason beat but lost 52-49 in overtime. George Mason appeared to have UNM beat, but lost 70-69 when UNM scored eight points in the final 20 seconds.

However, the Bears were hammered 62-36 by Illinois-Chicago and UNM beat Illinois-Chicago 66-59.

A few additional factors are the return of Hall and Coursey for Mercer - and playing in The Pit.

"We get a lot of energy from our fans," said Lobo Tony Snell, who averages 13.8 points for UNM. Snell is joined in double figures by Kendall Williams at 14.7 and Kirk at 11.0. There are four Lobos averaging 7.0 to 8.3 points: Demetrius Walker, Bairstow, Fenton and Hugh Greenwood.

A lot of Lobos have been contributing big points and big plays at key times this season. "I like our depth," said Alford.

The Lobos average 71.7 points and yield 63.5 a game. The Bears don't have the same firepower as UNM and probably would like to see the score in the 60s - or 50s. Mercer averages 60.7 points and gives up 49.2.

The Bears' defensive total was tilted a bit with a 65-36 win over Sewanee and a 70-25 win over Oglethorpe. Still, Mercer only gave up 74 in a 74-71 loss to Wake Forest and gave up 52 to George Mason in the Paradise Jam.

"I think the coaches are pretty prepared for us," said Kirk. "They saw Mercer play three games, so that will be a good scouting report."

The Bears last beat a ranked team on Nov. 10, 2007 vs. Southern Cal.