In a conference that is crowded at the top, winning every game matters even more.
For the Mercyhurst men’s basketball team, every team they face down the stretch is within one game in the standings. Currently, the team is tied for second with Clarion and Edinboro at 7-3 in conference play.
The Lakers split this past week losing to Clarion in the PSAC West (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) opener 66-71, but posed a big comeback Saturday defeating Slippery Rock 64-62. The win improved the Lakers overall record to 9-5.
Against Clarion, the Lakers struggled with the Golden Eagles on the boards getting out rebounded 39-22. Trailing by six at halftime, Mercyhurst tied it with 9:13 left to go in the second half, but the comeback was not enough as the Lakers lost by five.
The Lakers were led by freshman Callon Dailey who poured in a career-best 18 points and senior Bill Weaver who added 16 points and eight rebounds.
The Lakers came back Saturday poised and focused to defeat Slippery Rock.
“We had more energy, and we came ready to play,” Dailey said.
Senior Jamal Turner has been leading the Lakers offense from the point guard position. A transfer from Fairfield University, Turner is now in his second year as point guard.
“We set the tone early,” Turner said. “Our defense allowed us to pull away to a 17-point lead.”
Shooting only 32.3 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three, the free throw line was crucial and provided 32 percent of the Lakers’ scoring as they made 21 of 27 attempts.
Dailey saw his first start in a Laker uniform against Slippery Rock. He also won PSAC West Freshman of the week. Dailey believes that defense was the key to winning the Slippery Rock contest.
“As a team we made stops on defense and forced them to take bad shots. We also limited their second chance shots, and we controlled the boards on offense and defense,” Dailey said.
The Lakers were led by Steven Coleman, scoring a career-high 18 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Matt Lee also poured in 15 points in only 20 minutes. Followed by Paul Bilbo who contributed 13 points.
Going further into PSAC play, Dailey believes Mercyhurst needs to play a full 40-minute game both offensively and defensively.
“Once we take the lead we need to hold it and finish the game out strong,” Dailey said.
The Lakers have had to fill the role of Luis Leao, who is out with an elbow injury.
“Luis is a great player and great leader. We miss him on both ends of the floor,” Turner said. “Filling his shoes will be tough because he brings so much to the game.”
The Lakers hope to carry the momentum from the Slippery Rock win, as they hit a crucial part of their PSAC West schedule. The Lakers face rival Gannon and Indiana (Pa.) at home, before traveling to Edinboro.
If the Lakers can take at least two of the three games, they will be in good shape down the stretch.
The Lakers return to action Wednesday Jan. 18, when they host Gannon, at the Mercyhurst Athletic Center at 7:30 p.m.