In early January the Mercer Men’s Basketball team was floundering. Their roster was down to six players to begin the month due to academic eligibility issues which forced Howard Levy’s squad to play five games with no more than two players on the bench.
Instead of packing it for the year, the Vikings rallied to make the playoffs as the #7 seed, closing out the regular season with back to back wins.
The Vikings traveled to Newark, Delaware to take on the #2 seed Del-Tech-Stanton/Wilmington in the 1st round of the Region XIX Tournament. The Spirit of Del-Tech had throttled the Vikings 16 days earlier on February 8th in a 30 point victory, 88-58.
The Del-Tech defense stifled the Vikes offense forcing 15 turnovers and allowing Mercer only two scorers in double figures. But playoff time brought about a change in the Norsemen. Freshman point guard David Johnson had missed the Feb. 8 contest due to a suspension from accruing two or more technical fouls over the course of the season.
Head Coach Howard Levy said of Johnson, “he’s a terrific offensive player, has a knack for getting a shot off in traffic, he’s a really special offensive player.”
And in the playoffs special players make special plays.
Johnson exercised His team’s demons, dropping 27 points on the Spirit, adding two boards and two steals to lead the Vikings to a one-point victory 74-73. Johnson called this a “statement game,” one where you, “win or go home.”
The undeclared freshman had some trouble adjusting to the college game early in the season telling the VOICE,”there’s a lot of adjustments and being a young player I wasn’t used to the shot clock and get used to playing with my teammates and the plays the coach assigned.”
The 5’8 point man averaged 13.1 PPG and shot 56 percent from the floor in 2013-14.
Four players not academically eligible to play as of Jan 4th included freshmen guards Dashante “DJ” Alexander and Merced Jones, and freshmen forwards D’Andre Parmley and Aamir Williams.
Williams, the backup center for the team, was declared ineligible for the season along with backup guard Merced Jones. Parmley returned to the team after missing five games to regain his eligibility through winter courses.
Parmley, a 6’3 forward came back to finish as the team’s leading rebounder averaging over five boards a game and was the Vikings 2nd leading scorer at 13.1 per game.
Parmley, a product of Swenson Arts and Technology High School in Philadelphia, garnered high praise from his head coach, “D’Andre is a tremendous athlete,” said Levy adding, “he got beat up physically over the course of the year but saw improvements in his shooting at the end of the season.”
DJ Alexander missed three games due to ineligibility but returned to lead the team in assists at 3.2 per game and was the team’s third leading scorer with over 11 PPG. Alexander spoke about his eligibility issues in a one-on-one interview with the VOICE saying, “I felt like I let the team down,” Alexander said, adding, “the first half of the season I was me, when I came back from the eligibility issues I feel like it hindered me a little bit.”
Mercer finished the season with a record of 14-14, a record that is exactly average, but Alexander doesn’t see the season that way. “If you looked at our record early in the year you wouldn’t think that we would have made the final four in our region and that is something to be proud of.”
Looking ahead to next season David Johnson told the VOICE he has his priorities in order saying, ”We need to hit the books next year, everyone needs to focus more on school than basketball and then we can have everyone we need on the court.”