Belmont edges Mercer 65-64

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Belmont came awfully close to having its streak of three straight NCAA tournament appearances come to an abrupt end.

Seldom-used freshman Mick Hedgepeth banked in the rebound of an air ball with two-tenths of a second to play and the Bruins beat Mercer 65-64 on Thursday in the Atlantic Sun quarterfinals.

“I was just trying to score as quick as possible. I was just in the right place at the right time, and it fell right in my hands,” Hedgepeth said.

Asked if he had ever made such a shot in high school or on any other level, he added, “No way, but I have missed a couple.”

Third-seeded Belmont (19-11) will play No. 2 East Tennessee State on Friday in the semifinals.

Belmont coach Rick Byrd said he made a mistake in not having conference player of the year Alex Renfroe on the court for the final possession. Renfroe had been removed seconds earlier for a defensive substitution.

Byrd said he should have called a timeout not only to put Renfroe back in the game after James Florence’s basket gave Mercer (17-15) a 64-63 lead with 9 seconds left, but also to set up a final play.

“I made a bad decision not calling time out on the last possession, and it turned out to be a win,” Byrd said. “I really think in many ways Mercer deserved to win the game.”

Instead, Belmont put the ball in the hands of Andy Wicke, but the senior shot an air ball with about 4 seconds to play and Hedgepeth took care of the rest.

“If we win by 50, they’re not going to give us extra points for it,” Byrd said. “All that matters is that you advance.”

Belmont led by as many as 14 points in the first half and didn’t trail until Daniel Emerson’s dunk with 2:31 to play gave Mercer a 62-60 lead.

The Bruins went more than 10 minutes between field goals, making two free throws between Matthew Dotson’s basket with 10:43 left and Renfroe’s layup with 26 seconds to go that put the Bruins in front 63-62.

Renfroe and Wicke both scored 15 points and Keaton Belcher added 12 for Belmont. Renfroe grabbed 13 rebounds.

Florence scored 24 points, Brian Mills had 12 and Mark Hall added 11 for Mercer. Daniel Emerson had 15 rebounds.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Mercer
James Florence James Florence
8-20,  24 Pts
2 Rebs, 3 Assists
 Belmont
Alex Renfroe Alex Renfroe
5-12,  15 Pts
13 Rebs, 5 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists