With last season’s two win campaign now a distant memory, head coach Howard Levy and his young men’s basketball team head into the final month of the regular season on the cusp of a playoff berth. According to Athletic Director John Simone, all the Vikings need to do is finish .500 or better to clinch a spot in the NJCAA Region 19 tournament.
“There will be as many as five or six teams that will qualify meaning they have a .500 record or a .500 regional record,” Simone said, adding, “Anybody with a .500 record within the region or overall makes it in.”
A successful January put Mercer in good standing to achieve their goal. After winning three straight games to start the month, a lopsided 66-111 home loss to Harcum on Thursday, Jan. 25 ended their streak. Two days later freshmen shooting guard Donovan Guess led his team back into the win column over Valley Forge with a 34 point shooting performance.
Mercer got the sweep over Valley Forge after defeating them back in November, as they just edged out their opponent 70-68 in a back and forth shootout. With that win Mercer finishes January at 4-1 which puts them at 11-10 overall for the season.
According to freshman point guard John Evans, it was ultimately the how the Vikings finished defensively that yielded them the win.
“At first it was a little sloppy I can admit, but at the end we decided to come together and play defense as a whole and not play selfish.” Evans said. He added, “We can beat anyone if we all come together.”
Mercer also had the luxury of playing their fourth straight home game in the win, something that seldom happens in the final month as they finish with five of their last six games on the road.
“Whoever we’re going to play against at their home, they always got the advantage because the crowd and everything is at their house, and they know how to play on their courts. They don’t know how to shoot on our courts and everything, but I also got confidence in our team that we’ll be fine,” said Evans.
At 11-10 the team has very little room for error. They also have the challenge of opening this road trip against undefeated Brookdale who is 20-0 on the season.
After that, they will still face a high degree of competition as they travel to Rowan, Manor and Raritan who have a combined record of 36-22. They play their final home game against Lackawanna who are 17 and 3 and who the Vikings already lost to earlier the season. Then they will travel all the way to Delaware to finish the season against Del Tech Stanton.
In their last twelve games, Mercer is 8-4, but will be tested in what might be their toughest stretch of games all year, especially considering nearly all of them will be on the road. Forward Tory Whiting, who is one of only two sophomores on the roster, believes the team is well equipped to handle the challenge and can adjust when the time calls for it.
“Since the start of the semester we’ve been jelling real well. We switched up our defense and our offense a little bit and we made a couple little changes and it’s actually helped us a lot. We look like we’re getting a little bit more engaged,” Whiting said.