It’s been five years since the Mercer County Titans (12-7) faced off against the Russell County Lakers (9-9) and the Titans came out on top again, 54-51. The score stayed tight, with the Lakers having the upper hand most of the game, but the Titans got hot behind the 3-point line in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.
The victory says a lot about the growth of this year’s team under Coach Keith Adkins. Last year, the Titans lost eight games they led in the fourth quarter. This year’s team has learned how to finish a game and win under pressure. The physicality of senior transfer Owen Barnes has also helped the Titans secure the win when, in years past, it might not have been.
Mercer struggled in the opening minutes of the game. Their only point until the 2:46 mark in the first quarter was a foul shot by Trevor Ellis, until sophomore Kaleb Murray hit a reverse layup. Mercer’s shots were all a little short at the rim and Russell County had a defender practically riding Ellis the majority of the game and it helped to shut down their leading scorer. Barnes drove to the basket with 1:27 left in the first quarter. Mercer wouldn’t score again, and Russell led 13-5.
At the beginning of the second quarter, the Titans quickly chipped away at the Lakers’ lead. Barnes had another successful drive, and Murray had a steal under the Titan’s basket and fed it to Barnes for another basket. Murray picked up another assist when he found senior Jackson Perry open for a 2-point shot, 11-15.
Junior guard Andrew Tatum picked up his second foul and headed to the bench. Tatum’s game continues to improve, which will benefit the team as they get closer to post-season play.
Senior John Lincoln Perry flew out of nowhere to snag a big rebound that Murray converted into a bucket. JL Perry followed with a drive down the middle and the game was tied 15-15. Russell quickly retook the lead with a 3-point shot. The Lakers didn’t hesitate to let it fly from outside the perimeter and hit nine 3-pointers throughout the evening.
Ellis was fouled on a put-back shot and hit his free throw. J.L. Perry hit the jumper to close out the first half tied, 20-20.