Western Carolina erased a 21-point deficit to tie the game at 74 with 68 seconds left, but Mercer made four free throws inside the final minute to escape with a 78-76 win over the Catamounts on Saturday afternoon at Hawkins Arena.
Mercer improves to 8-4 overall and 1-3 in the Southern Conference. Western Carolina, which played its first game since December 30 and only its second since December 18, dropped to 7-4 and 0-2.
Redshirt senior Mason Faulkner led the Catamounts with a season-high 25 points. Faulkner went just 4-for-11 from the field but made 16 of 18 free throw attempts. His 16 made free throws are tied for fourth-most in a game in program history. The Glasgow, Ky., native also pulled down a team-best eight rebounds.
Sophomore Xavier Cork (13), senior Matt Halvorsen (12), and junior Cory Hightower (10) also finished in double figures. In his first game in nearly a full calendar year after sustaining and recovering from an injury, junior Kameron Gibson tallied six points in seven minutes played.
Neftali Alvarez paced Mercer with 24 points followed by Maciej Bender with 22 and Leon Ayers III with 17. Felipe Haase grabbed nine rebounds.
The Bears opened the game on a 5-1 run before a Halvorsen 3-pointer brought the visitors within a point with 17:25 to play before the break. Mercer answered with an 18-to-3 run as an Alvarez triple gave the Bears a 23-7 lead at the midpoint of the half. Ayers gave Mercer its largest lead of the game, 37-16, with just under five minutes to play. The Catamounts used a 14-6 run to close the half as Mercer led 43-30 at halftime.
With Mercer leading 56-39 after a Bender layup at the 13:21 mark, WCU used a 19-2 run to tie the game at 58 following two Faulkner free throws with 9:46 remaining. A Bender free throw on the next Mercer possession put the hosts back on top with their largest lead being six points.
After a Bender jumper put Mercer ahead 74-69 with 2:08 to play, the Catamounts tallied five free throws, four of which were made by Faulkner, to tie the game.
After both teams had an empty possession, Ayers was fouled with 25 seconds left and made the go-ahead free throws. The Catamounts were unable to convert on their next possession and had to foul Patrick Urey after he grabbed the defensive rebound. Urey made both free throw attempts before Faulkner made a layup with two seconds remaining. The Bears were able to inbound the ball and run out the clock for the win.
Mercer finished 26-for-55 (47.3 percent) from the field while the Catamounts went 19-for-51 (37.3 percent). The Catamounts attempted a season-high 36 free throws and made 30 to tie a season-high. The Bears went 23-for-30 (76.7 percent) at the charity stripe. Mercer held a 39-28 advantage in rebounds and outscored WCU 36-22 in the paint.
WCU remains on the road, traveling to Samford on Monday for a 3 p.m. Eastern/2 p.m. Central start.
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|Steven GrandyDirector of Media Relations|