Stetson was held to less than 40 percent shooting from the floor for the third straight game, and the sixth time this season. The Hatters (7-14, 4-6) hit just 12-of-33 shots in the second half, including just 1-of-13 from three-point range.
Mercer (16-7, 8-2) maintained a share of the A-Sun lead by shooting better than 50 percent (55.2) from the floor and by forcing the Hatters into 21 turnovers, the most for Stetson in the last six games.
“I don’t think there is anything that we can hang our hat on today,” Stetson coach Casey Alexander said. “What we really learned is what a good team Mercer is. They just don’t waste possessions on either end of the floor.
“Their coaches have done a great job of getting them to accept roles and play together, and that is what we are trying to do. Even though the win-loss column doesn’t reflect it, we think we are making progress.”
For the Hatters, the game saw the return of junior guard Joel Naburgs. The native of Victoria, Australia, missed Stetson’s last game with back spasms and has been struggling, in large part to the bad back, with his outside shooting for several weeks.
He was able to get the back into shape enough to get onto the floor Saturday, tying for the team scoring lead with 14 points while grabbing five rebounds and dishing five assists. Part of his motivation to get back on the floor came from the fact that his mother, Christine, was at the game.
“I have been working in treatment for at least two hours a day, every day, trying to recover,” Naburgs said of his back problems. “I worked the entire week just to build up to play today and to be in the best shape that I could be in.
“My mom is here for about three weeks and that gave me a big boost of energy and confidence. I really wanted for her to see us get a big win against Mercer, because they are a great team but, unfortunately, that didn’t happen today.”
The extra effort Naburgs put in to get ready, and his effort in the game, did not go unnoticed by his coach.
“He is still hurting, but he played with a lot of effort,” Alexander said of Naburgs. “Joel is a tough kid who wants to do well. All of our guys need to understand what that means and how you channel that into the direction of what we are trying to accomplish.”
Mercer shot a blistering 63 percent from the floor in the second half to build and maintain a 20-point lead most of the way down the stretch. It was not until the Bears put in some backups in the final minutes that allowed Stetson to close the game on a 15-6 run to narrow the final margin.
The Hatters saw the return of their old nemesis in the first half, turning the ball over 12 times. In addition to the turnovers, Stetson struggled to get into a rhythm offensively in the opening half. The Hatters managed to get off just 18 shots in the first 20 minutes, as compared to 29 for Mercer.
“I think we were careless in the first half and made too many (turnovers) that, in my mind, were unforced,” Alexander said. “They pressure the ball within scoring range, but they don’t pressure outside the three-point line. We have to maintain poise and continue running our offense, even though it gets sticky and ugly in there sometimes.”
Stetson also could not find an answer for Jakob Gollon early, as he scored the first nine points of the game for the Bears and had a game-high 13 at the break as Mercer led 43-30. He finished with 17 points.
After Gollon cooled, it was sophomore Bud Thomas who did most of the damage for Mercer. The Colorado native scored 11 of his game-high 19 points in the second half by hitting 8-of-10 from the field.
The Hatters were able to lean on center Adam Pegg in the first half for some offense, but he managed only three of his 14 points in the second half, and those came late.
“I think we just lost focus on getting the ball to Adam in the second half,” Alexander said. “It was not intentional, we just let them dictate to us how they wanted to play.”
In addition to Pegg and Naburgs, the Hatters got 14 points from Chris Perez and 12 from Aaron Graham.
The Hatters will try to break their five-game losing skid on Monday when Kennesaw State visits the Edmunds Center for a 7 p.m. contest.