Mercer battles Utah State for CIT title

Mar 28, 2012 - 3:23 PM Logan, UT (Sports Network) - Seeking its first postseason tournament title in school history, the Utah State Aggies host the Mercer Bears in the championship game of the Tournament at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

Stew Morrill's Aggies have been a picture of consistency, with this being the 13th straight season the team has amassed 21 or more victories, one of just five schools to achieve that mark (Gonzaga, Kansas, Syracuse, Duke). It is also the 13th straight postseason appearance for Utah State. The team has put on quite a show in this its first CIT Tournament, winning four games at home, including setting a school-record for points in a postseason game, with a 105-81 win over Oakland in the semifinal round this past weekend. The Aggies knocked off CSU Bakersfield (75-69), Idaho (76-56) and Loyola Marymount (77-69) prior to the rout of the Golden Grizzlies.

While Utah State has done all its damage at home, Mercer has navigated the tournament field both at home and on the road. Bob Hoffman's Bears opened with a pair of home wins over Tennessee State (68-60) and Georgia State (64-59) and finished things off with road wins at Old Dominion (79-73) and most recently, at Fairfield (64-59). The Bears have blown by their single-season record for wins, coming into this contest at 26-11. The previous mark was 23 victories set in the 2002-03 season.

This is just the second meeting between these two teams all-time. Utah State won the only previous meeting, a 74-55 decision in 1999.

Despite committing 20 turnovers, Mercer was able to shoot a solid .451 from the floor and hold Fairfield to just .377 shooting, en route to a five-point win on the road. Bud Thomas led the way with 13 points, on the strength of a perfect 4-of-4 from three-point range. Travis Smith and Monty Brown added strong play off the bench, chipping in 12 and 10 points, respectively. A big difference in the game, was Mercer's 10-of-20 showing from behind the arc, compared to Fairfield's 3-of-16 effort.

A defensive-minded team, Mercer is not exactly known for its offensive firepower. The team shoots an efficient .458 on the season, but it has led to a modest 68.1 ppg. The team relies more on stingy defensive play, holding opponents well under 40 percent shooting (.386) and just 62.7 ppg. Langston Hall leads three players in double-figure scoring at 11.3 ppg, but he shoots just .377 from the floor. Justin Cecil (10.9 ppg) and Jakob Gollon (10.5 ppg) round out the scoring trio.

In addition to a record for scoring, the Aggies also set postseason school records for assists (26), three-pointers (12) and three-point accuracy (.750) against the Golden Grizzlies. Sophomore Preston Medlin led all scorers with 26 points, thanks to a 9-of-13 effort from the floor. Brockeith Pane poured in another 20 points, while Morgan Grim and Danny Berger were right behind with 18 and 17 points, respectively. Grim added a team-high 10 rebounds to complete a double-double. Overall Utah State, converted a scorching 63.8 percent from the floor, while Oakland managed just 36.6 percent.

The 105 points were a bit of an aberration, as Utah State is averaging just 69.0 ppg this year. However, it isn't from a lack of efficiency, as the Aggies convert 47.7 percent from the floor. A lot of that has to do with the play of Medlin. The sophomore sensation leads the team with 17.1 ppg and ranks 12th nationally in three-point accuracy (.435), hitting 93-of-214 attempts from behind the arc. Medlin has upped his scoring average to 23.3 ppg during this tourney. Pane provides another double-digit threat at 12.6 ppg. Kyisean Reed and Grim give the team some depth at 9.9 and 9.1 ppg, respectively.

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