PHOENIX, Ariz. – Jordan Strawberry and Ross Cummings scored 21 points apiece to lead the Mercer Bears to a gutsy 78-73 win at Grand Canyon University on Wednesday night in the opening round of the College Basketball Invitational.
Seventeen of Strawberry's points came in the second half, as the senior guard sank 6-of-9 field goals and all four of his free throws after intermission.
Strawberry also dished out a game-high eight assists. Cummings was deadly behind the 3-point arc, hitting 5-of-7 3s, with the Bears nailing 10 of 20 three point baskets on the evening. Demetre Rivers tallied 13 points for the Bears, while senior guard Ria'n Holland, playing for the first time since Jan. 18 when he injured his hand on the road at VMI, came off the bench to score 10 points in 20 minutes of action.
Mercer made six of its last eight field goals down the stretch and put together an 11-0 run late in the game to gain some separation from a talented Grand Canyon team. Down 65-61 with 6:11 remaining in the game, the Bears scored 11 answered points to go up 72-65 on a basket by Desmond Ringer with 2:43 left. It was a free-throw shooting contest the rest of the way, as Rivers and Strawberry each sank a pair of free throws inside 30 seconds of play to help ice the victory.
Mercer led the entire first half, leading by as many as nine when Rivers slammed home a dunk at the 9:12 mark to give the Bears a 24-15 advantage. Grand Canyon proceeded to go on a 7-0 run to slice the lead to 24-22. The two teams exchanged baskets the remainder of the opening 20 minutes and Mercer took a 36-33 lead into the locker room. The Bears shot 52 percent from the field in the first half while GCU connected on just 41 percent of its field goal attempts.
GCU came out strong after halftime, scoring the first four points to claim its first lead of the game, 37-36, with 18:55 remaining. There were eight lead changes and seven ties in the second half, with GCU grabbing its biggest lead of the game, 59-53, at the 9:49 mark before Mercer rallied back to tie the game at 61-61.
Mercer shot 51 percent from the field and outrebounded GCU 36-30. The Antelopes were led in scoring by Keonta Vernon with 20 and Casey Benson who had 17. GCU shot 45.9 percent from the field but was just 7-of-26 from behind the 3-point arc.
Mercer improves to 19-14 overall and advances to the second round of the CBI, where it will face the University of North Texas on Monday, March 19, in Denton, Texas. Tipoff time is set for 8 p.m. (ET). Grand Canyon finishes the season at 22-12.