Prep Basketball Regionals: Mercer stuns Southwestern in OT
Will Hager, left, leaps into the arms of a Mercer County teammate as other Titans rush to join them following Mercer's 56-54 overtime victory Southwestern on Tuesday in a 12th Region Tournament first-round game at Lincoln County. (Clay Jackson / February 27, 2013)
Twelve days was just about enough time for the Titans.
Mercer was waxed 84-57 by Southwestern in its final regular-season game, and the Titans found out Saturday they would have to face the Warriors again in the first round of the boys 12th Region Tournament. But they turned the tables in the rematch Tuesday night, taking out the defending champions with a 56-54 overtime victory at Lincoln County.
Blake Pennington hit two free throws to tie the game with half a second remaining in regulation, and the Titans survived a potential game winning-shot to turn a what appeared to be a terrible draw into a memorable upset.
“Most people, as soon as they called me or they ran into me (said), ‘Oh, gosh, you all drew Southwestern. Who drew that?’ and I said, ‘Well, I did,’” Britt, the Mercer coach, said. “The bottom line is I’d much rather go in with three days preparation playing one of the top teams in our region.”
Mercer (17-13) used a defense it had not employed all year to hold Southwestern (22-9) well below the Warriors’ average of 73.6 points per game and the Titans’ average of 68.6 points allowed per game and advance to a semifinal Friday against Somerset, which defeated Boyle County 51-50 on Tuesday.
The Titans still appeared to be in trouble, however, in the seconds leading up to Pennington’s clutch free throws. Southwestern got the ball with 38 seconds left in a tie game and held for what the Warriors thought would be a final shot. David Kapinga drove into the lane, drew the defense and passed to Isaiah Collier for a layup that gave the Warriors a 49-47 lead with :02 left.
Mercer then took advantage of three timeouts to set up its attempt to tie or win. Each team called a timeout after Collier’s basket, and the Titans called another at :01.3 as soon as the inbounds pass was caught at midcourt.
It was during those breaks that Britt repeated his oft-used message about time and opportunity.
“One thing I’ve told them from the beginning of the season is, if there’s time on the clock, then we have a chance to win,” he said. “And as soon as we called that timeout, I told them, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, ...’ and once we got in the huddle ... they knew what I’m thinking. Last year, their basketball IQ’s weren’t very high, and this year their basketball IQs are high.”
The inbounds pass from midcourt came to Pennington, who was fouled by Adam Isaacs almost as soon as he caught the ball more than 20 feet from the basket. Pennington said he was feeling the pressure when he went to the line, but he said he was better prepared than he would have been a year ago.
“I’ve been practicing my free throws all year, because I’ve been horrible at them, shooting like 50 percent (before this season). But I’m shooting better this year and focusing on them, and coach Britt just told me to step up and hit them,” he said.
Pennington scored first in overtime on a runout, and Mercer went on to make five of six free throws in the fifth period. The Titans led 55-51 after John Ingram and Russell Sims made two each and before Kapinga sank a 3-pointer for Southwestern with 15 seconds left.
Will Hager then made one of two foul shots, and Justin Edwards rebounded the miss to give the Warriors a chance to tie or win. Isaacs fired a 3-point shot from the right corner that bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded, sending the Titans into the semifinals for the third time in four years.
“It’s really big. Southwestern, they did beat us by 27 in the regular season, so I believe this is a huge win for us,” Pennington said.
Pennington scored 16 points and was one of the key figures in a good shooting night for Mercer. The Titans shot 49 percent from the field and were 10 of 24 from 3-point range, where Pennington was 4-for-6, Ingram was 3-for-7 and Hager was 2-for-4. Hager led the Titans with 17 points.
But Britt said the Titans were even better on defense, where they played a matchup zone that he said they hadn’t used all season.
“When we’re playing man-to-man, we don’t move our feet very well, moving as the ball’s passed (or) dribbled, but we told them in this 2-3 zone we have to move as the ball moved ... and the guys did a great job of executing the defense tonight,” Britt said. “Obviously that may be something we need to look at a little bit more.”
Southwestern shot 48 percent from the field and was 6-for-22 from 3-point range, but the Warriors fell behind 13-5 in the first quarter, had to work for their shots and didn’t take their first lead until the closing seconds of the third quarter.
Justin Edwards led Southwestern with 21 points, but he didn’t score in the final 7 1/2 minutes.
Mercer will now have two days to prepare for its semifinal against Somerset.
“I told them, ‘Enjoy tonight,’ and then they started to complete my sentence again and they all repeated it, ‘and tomorrow we’re going back to work,’” Britt said.
Mercer County 13 26 36 49 56
Southwestern 10 26 38 49 54
MERCER (17-13) — Jordan Duncan 3, John Ingram 12, Will Hager 17, Russell Sims 8, Blake Pennington 16.
SOUTHWESTERN (22-9) — Isaiah Collier 4, Justin Edwards 21, Dylan Gaskin 2, Justin Schulz 5, David Kapinga 13, Adam Isaacs 9.