RALEIGH, N.C. — Tennessee overpowered Mercer on the way to its third NCAA Tournament victory in a five-day period, reserving a spot in the Sweet 16 with an 83-63 victory in the third round of the Midwest Regional on Sunday night at PNC Arena.
Junior guard Josh Richardson scored a career-high 26 points as the Tennessee offense clicked from the start.
The 11th-seeded Volunteers (24-12) move on to face second-seeded Michigan (27-8) on Friday night in Indianapolis.
Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes provided 17 points and 18 rebounds, helping quash the Cinderella run of Mercer. Guard Antonio Barton’s 18 points and guard Jordan McRae’s 14 points aided the Volunteers.
Tennessee has won eight of its last nine games, barely a week removed from sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Mercer (27-9), which was the lowest seed remaining in the tournament entering the weekend, was unable to duplicate a victory against another team from a power conference after dismissing third-seeded Duke on Friday.
Mercer, which trailed by as many as 19 points, cut its deficit to 72-61 with 2 1/2 minutes to play.
The Bears had some curious statistics because they were shooting above 50 percent from the field until the final few minutes and committed only six turnovers (two in the final 3:01).
Yet they could not match up with the Volunteers in the lane, where Tennessee’s muscle was too much. The Volunteers had a 41-19 rebounding edge.
Guard Langston Hall led the Bears with 15 points, reserve guard Ike Nwamu scored 12, guard Anthony White Jr. had 11 and forward Daniel Coursey added 10.
Forward Jakob Gollon, who had a distinguished career that covered six years because of a medical hardship, fouled out with 1:56 remaining in his final game for Mercer.
Hundreds of Mercer fans were on hand, donned largely in black after suiting up in orange for the upset of Duke. But they clearly wanted to distinguish themselves from the Tennessee crowd.
Tennessee carried a 42-27 lead to halftime, mostly because of Richardson’s 16 points and an overwhelming rebounding cushion.
Mercer was credited with only four first-half rebounds, with the Volunteers continually cashing in on second-chance points from their 12 offensive boards. They also had 12 defensive rebounds at the break.
The Volunteers scored the game’s first eight points. That edge was wiped out, but later they connected on seven shots in a row to build a double-digit advantage.
Five of Mercer’s 11 baskets in the first half came on 3-pointers.
NOTES: Mercer F Jakob Gollon, who is in his sixth year of eligibility after he was granted a medical hardship waiver, played in his 154th career game. That is the second most in NCAA history behind the 157 of former Ohio State player David Lighty. … Mercer ended Tennessee’s season last year with a first-round NIT victory in Knoxville, Tenn. … Tennessee reserve C Rawane Ndiaye’s family lives in Raleigh. … The Volunteers have won 23-plus games for only the fifth time in program history.
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