TSU, Mercer battle for top spot

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 16, 2003

Tonight's game between Troy State and Mercer has all the makings of a classic.

Troy State (12-4, 3-1) trails Mercer (9-3, 4-0) by only a game for first place in the Atlantic Sun South Division. Although early in the season, tonight's game is important for the teams as they try to jockey for position in the conference tournament. Central Florida is only a half game behind Troy State at 2-1 in the conference.

The game is also on television as the Atlantic Sun Game of the Week on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast.

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"This is a good game for the conference to have on television," Troy State head coach Don Maestri said. "Mercer is 4-0 in the conference and is a very good team."

Mercer disposed of Central Florida 85-63 Monday night. The Bears held Ray Abellard to five points in the romp.

"Central Florida beat us here and Mercer beat them by 22 points. We will have our hands full," Maestri said.

Troy State is in the strange position of being the more rested team. The Trojans have had nearly a week off since playing four games in eight days.

Maestri even gave his team two days off following the loss to Central Florida instead of the normal one day off.

"It's been nice to have some rest," Maestri said.

The Bears may provide some matchup problems for the Trojans. Many Bears are taller than the Trojans, and they are complete players.

"They have a complete basketball team," Maestri said. "Their big guys are able to shoot from outside and they have a true point guard who can shoot the basketball."

Mercer has three starters who did not start last year, but two of them started the year before. Scott Emerson, second on the team with 14.9 points per game, and Wesley Duke, 9.2, were both injured early in the year last year. They sat out last season but have returned to the starter's position.

Those starters from last year have come off the bench this year to contribute for Mercer. In all, eight players average five points a game or better for Mercer, making them one of the more balanced teams in the league.

"It's hard to prepare for them because they don't have any weaknesses," Maestri said.

The Bears do have a tendency to turn over the ball. They average 17.2 turnovers a game, 2.6 more than they cause. Troy State averages three fewer turnovers a game than their opponents, so with the Trojan press, the men of Troy may have a chance.

The Trojans have a week off before traveling to Nashville, Tenn., to face Belmont in another televised game.