Today was the longest driving day on the trip. It's only about 450 miles from Orlando to Atlanta, but I wanted to break it up somehow. Fortunately, the Mercer Bears of Macon, GA were home in an NCAA basketball game. Macon is about 90 minutes south of Atlanta, so it was a perfect spot to stop in and check out some university hoops.
I left Orlando at 8:30 and arrived at Mercer University just over 5 hours later. The basketball games are held at University Center, which is located close to the campus entrance off I-75 at exit 163. Parking seems to be free throughout the campus, so just follow the signs to a lot near the UC.
Tickets for visitors are $10 regardless of location, but I noticed that you could sneak in if you wished, there didn't seem to be much in the way of security. The gym is small enough that all seats are close to the action. When I arrived, the women's teams were playing (it was a doubleheader). The 2nd half was about to get underway, so I took my seat and watched for a few minutes. I'm not a big fan of women's basketball, but was impressed with Stetson's outside shooting, they nailed three 3-point shots in a row to take a one point lead over Mercer. Still, it wasn't intriguing enough to keep me watching much longer, so I went in search of some food (Mercer ended up winning 65-51 - one of their players is named LaToya Jackson who seemed to be the leading scorer).
The UC has its own food court which includes Subway and a Japanese rice bowl place. You can eat there before the game, the options are more palatable than the hot dogs and popcorn you get inside the actual gym.
Mercer and Stetson play in the Atlantic Sun conference which has 11 teams based in the southeast. The Hatters are based in De Land, Fl, about 40 miles north of Orlando. They were 5-14 when play began, and only 3-8 in conference play.
The Bears were 9-11, but they had played a few 1st-tier opponents, including Vanderbilt and Alabama, so I think they are better than their record indicates, but they were only 5-5 in A-sun games, and were on a 3-game losing skid.
Before the game, there was a ceremony to congratulate Mercer guard James Florence. The senior from Marietta, GA had just become the all-time leading scorer for the Bears, surpassing ex-Raptors' coach Sam Mitchell.
Mitchell even made a taped message of congratulations which was shown. He is a member of the Mercer Athletics Hall of Fame, which is just inside the main doors, along with several displays detailing the history of the university. Below is Mitchell's induction plaque.
Not much to talk about here. Mercer played a near perfect game and Stetson were terrible. The Bears shot 60% from the floor, including an astounding 14/24 from beyond the arc. The Hatters were a woeful 33%, and only 5/25 from 3-point range. Certainly Mercer played good defense, but Stetson's shooting was still awful. Consequently the Bears had 45 rebounds to Stetson's 22. Mercer's Jeff Smith was 7/8 from downtown to lead all scorers with 25 points. He's #12 in the picture below, grabbing a rebound.
Here are some more pictures.
Florence drives to the basket
Cheerleaders encouraging the crowd to shout "Mercer!"
The final score
I didn't have any time to tour the area - just drove in, parked, got a ticket, watched the game, and headed on to Atlanta. But it was a lively crowd who really support their team. It's nice to see these less famous schools in action, I do wish the game was slightly more competitive but even at this level the players are extremely talented. I wonder if some of them will ever make it overseas, perhaps even to Japan?
Tomorrow is the last day of the trip. I've got an 8:20 am flight to Pittsburgh to watch the 12:30 game between the Penguins and Red Wings, flying back at 7:30 pm. I'll be meeting fellow roadtrippers Gary and Mike, so hopefully all goes well and you'll have a report on that game in the next few days.