AP photo by Jason Vorhees|
Alabama's Demetrius Jemison (23) and Richard Hendrix show no mercy on Mercer's Brian Pfohl, left, under the basket in Macon, Ga., on Tuesday.
Hendrix, Tide spoil upstart Mercer's party
By Paul Newberry
Associated Press Writer
MACON, Ga. — Hours before the tipoff, hundreds of Mercer students were tailgating outside the University Center, munching on burgers, listening to music and still savoring the school's stunning upset of Southern Cal.
Then they piled inside, eager to see if the Bears could pull off another surprise before the first sellout crowd in the history of their 3,200-seat arena.
Alabama — and one player in particular — brought Mercer back to reality Tuesday night.
Tide junior and Athens High grad Richard Hendrix scored 28 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to lead the Crimson Tide to a 90-83 victory over the Bears, who couldn't duplicate their 96-81 stunner against then-No. 18 USC on Saturday.
"It's very disappointing," Mercer's Calvin Henry said. "We came out here expecting to win."
The Bears (1-1) had never attracted a full house to their campus arena, which opened in January 2004, and they're used to going largely unnoticed even in their own city, about 90 miles south of Atlanta.
Last season, the Atlantic Sun team drew an average of just over 1,000 a game. Mercer's only two NCAA tournament appearances were one-and-done trips in 1981 and '85.
The win over the Trojans brought unprecedented excitement to the Baptist-affiliated private school. The Bears wanted to show they were for real, but they simply had no one to stop the 6-foot-8, 255-pound Hendrix.
"If I get the ball, I have to make something happen," Hendrix said. "That's not always with points. Tonight, it was just a thing where I was scoring. Other nights it might be passing, or it might be rebounding and blocking shots. I just have to bring the same intensity every night to this team."
He hit 11-of-15 shots from the field and led the Crimson Tide (2-0) to a dominating performance on the boards. Hendrix pulled down six of his rebounds at the offensive end, leading Alabama to a 50-32 advantage over the shorter Bears.
Hendrix also had three blocks and two steals. Plus, his presence on the inside opened up shot on the perimeter for the Tide, which made 8-of-18 from beyond the arc.
After James Florence hit a 3-pointer that pulled Mercer to 57-55 with 121/2 minutes remaining, Justin Tubbs countered at the other end with a trey to spark an 8-0 spurt that restored the double-digit lead.
"You might look at this as one of those trap games, but I didn't see it that way," Hendrix said. "There's no such thing as mid-major anymore. Not these days. You have to respect every team. Mercer is a good college basketball team."
The Bears took some solace from playing respectably against the Southeastern Conference team, which went 20-12 last season.
"Hopefully we put on a good enough performance that people still have confidence in us and will want to come out and watch us play," said Mercer forward Brian Pfohl, one of those who tried in vain to stop Hendrix. "I think we're going to be a great team as the season progresses in our own league. Hopefully we'll make it to the (NCAA) tournament and see them again."
Florence, who scored 30 points in the win over USC, failed to come up with another big effort. He had 22 points but mainly because he kept firing up shots, hitting just 7-of-22 from the field. He was an abysmal 1-of-10 outside the 3-point arc.
Shaddean Aaron also had 22 for the Bears, while Pfohl chipped in with 15.
Alonzo Gee scored 16 for Alabama, and Mykal Riley added 11. Freshman Senario Wilkinson, who played his high school ball about a half-hour away at Wilkinson County, scored 9 to thrill a large contingent that came to see him play.
But Hendrix was the star of the show, especially with Mercer's burliest player, 6-8, 245-pound Sam Dolan, sitting out because of an ailing back.
SEC teams rarely go on the road to face low-level schools such as Mercer, but Alabama coach Mark Gottfried scheduled the unusual road trip as part of a two-for-one deal that will bring the Bears to Tuscaloosa twice.
"You can schedule to pad your record, or you can schedule to make your team better," Gottfried said. "We felt like we could walk into a tough environment against a good team early in the season and get challenged, which we did, and still find a way to win the game."
He wanted to boost the Tide's recruiting profile in central Georgia and give Wilkinson a chance to play before the home folks. He also got a win as part of the package.
"A game like that does much more from your team than beating someone by 50 at home," Gottfried said. "That doesn't help you. It was a little risky. At the same time, makes your team better."
Mercer coach Mark Slonaker hopes this game — even though it's a loss — will bring his team a little more respect and notoriety. "We're hurting tonight," he said. "Tomorrow, the guys will say, 'Hey we were right there.' ''
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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