12th Region basketball: Mercer boys lock down Southwestern

Published 2:15 pm Thursday, March 7, 2024

The Mercer County boys got exactly what they wanted in the first round of the 12th Region Tournament.

Coach Keith Adkins wanted the Titans to be the better defensive team and the better rebounding team, and they were both of those things in a 55-42 victory over Southwestern at Pulaski County.

They held Southwestern to one of its lowest offensive outputs of the season and got their hands on two-thirds of the missed shots as they notched their first regional tournament win in six seasons.

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“Two things have to happen for us: We have to defend really well and we have to be dominant on both ends on the glass,” Adkins said. “If we don’t, then we will be in trouble. We’re never going to be a great offense, but I think we’ve got an opportunity to be elite defensively and on the glass.”

Mercer (22-11) looked the part in both of those areas as it advanced to the semifinals and a matchup with Pulaski County on Monday.

John Lincoln Perry scored 17 points and Trevor Ellis had 16 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Titans in their first regional win since their run to the finals in 2018.

Adkins wants to help the Titans become consistent regional contenders, and he said this win was a good first step.

“Our goal is to get into the conversation with the Pulaskis, the Lincolns, the Waynes, and it’s not going to happen overnight, but this is a good start,” Adkins said. “And it means a lot to the kids, I know that. They’ve been through a lot together through the years and to finally see something really good happen for them means a lot.”

Southwestern (14-17) had shot 54 percent from the field 10 days earlier in a 54-40 win over Mercer in the team’s regular-season finale, but the Warriors shot just 37 percent in the rematch.

Meanwhile, the Titans dominated the boards, outrebounding the Warriors 15-5 in the first half and 33-17 overall and allowing only five offensive rebounds.

Mercer’s rebounding was balanced beyond Ellis’ big total, which was just above his average of 12.3 per game. Perry, Nathan Tatum, Kaleb Murray and Jackson Doughty had at least three rebounds each.

The Titans opened a 19-11 lead in the second quarter with a 10-2 run that included four points each by Ellis and Tatum, and they never led by less than six points again.

They put the game away early in the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run that started with a Doughty 3-point goal and included six points by Ellis and left Mercer with a 45-27 lead with 4:52 remaining.

Connor Hudson did his best to keep Southwestern in the game by scoring 15 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, but only two other Warriors scored after halftime.