Pilgrims have Mercer

PLYMOUTH — Plymouth’s coaching staff has been working with sophomore Mack Mercer this week on finishing strong.
Message received.
The 6-9 sophomore center finished at an 11-for-14 clip off the blocks and along the baseline — including a pair of crowd-pleasing two-handed dunks in the first half — on his way to a career-high 31 points, and the Pilgrims held off a tenacious Northridge team, 60-53 on Homecoming Night at The Rock Friday.
“We’ve had a pretty good week of practice. The coaches really just talked to me about joint up strong and getting into people, and I was able to do that tonight,” said Mercer.
“Mack, he scores obviously a lot of points for us tonight, gets a lot of rebounds, but I just liked the way he was going after the rebounds. I could see it in his eyes,” said Plymouth Head Coach Ryan Bales.
“I thought Mack, not only was he finishing tonight, I thought he was taking it through people and finishing strong, and he’s got to hopefully continue to play that way for us.”
Mercer added 11 rebounds to go along with his career-high points production. He went 7 of 8 from the floor in the first half and scored nine of Plymouth’s last 11 points of the half as the Pilgrims grabbed a 28-17 halftime lead, a cushion they would need every bit of as Northridge battled back in the second half.
The Raiders used a 16-10 third quarter to Plymouth’s lead down to five at 38-33 heading into the final period. Plymouth stretched the lead back to nine with a Joe Knapp lay-in on an over-the-top assist from Mercer and a pair of free throws from sophomore guard Tom Felke at the start of the fourth and extended the advantage back to double digits at 47-37 with a traditional three-point play by Mercer on a lob from John Ruff at the 5:15 stop.
Northfield whittled that lead back down to four at the 3:02 mark with a 13-3 run capped off by a corner triple from freshman Pete Smith.
The Raiders kept it within five with 2:06 remaining in the game, but Plymouth closed out the game 8-6 with layups by Mercer and Knapp and a combined 4-of-6 free throw clip from Mercer and Ruff to earn the Pilgrims their second straight win.
“It came down to timely passes, timely assists and timely stops. I felt like we were up four, but we were still in control of the game,” said Bales. “I thought our guys kept their composure extremely well. When they go back to doing the little things — making really good defensive stops and getting the rebound, making the easy pass on offense — then I think we can be really tough to beat. Northridge didn’t quit. We knew that coming in, they were going to play 32 minutes harder than about anybody all year, and I thought our guys competed well on both ends of the floor as well.”
While Mercer led the Pilgrims both in scoring and off the glass, several players put in strong performances as Plymouth went 10 deep at the game.
Felke dished out four of the Pilgrims’ 16 assists, while Ruff and Kyle Kaser finished with seven points each, and Knapp also chipped in seven points with three assists and two steals in 17 minutes played as the first man off the bench.
“I think Joe gave us a great spark,” Bales said. “He really has had a good couple weeks of practice, and I think that’s really preparing him for the game. He’s come in the last couple games and given us what we need. He provides some scoring, he provides ball handling, and he’s got some quickness on defense. I think a lot of his success on game night has been because he’s been working hard in practice.”
The Raiders were led by senior guard Gavin Blyly’s 20 points earned mostly with a 4-of-8 shooting performance from beyond the arc, while sophomore forward Nate Ritchie put up 13 points with four rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Northridge slips to 6-7 overall and a winless 0-4 in NLC play, while Plymouth moves to 9-4 and 3-1 in the NLC with its only conference loss coming at Elkhart Memorial Jan. 6. The Pilgrims play host to Mishawaka in a back-to-back game tonight before resuming NLC play at Goshen next Friday.
“I just like the way we’re playing basketball right now,” said Bales. “The last couple of games I think our effort’s been pretty consistent. We’re giving ourselves a chance to win, and I think it’s been a total team effort. We have different guys stepping up like we’ve said all year long, and that’s got to continue to be a theme. I think our team as a whole has to continue to wear teams down and use our depth. Hopefully we can continue to do that. We’ve got some tough ones coming up, it’s not going to get any easier.”
At Plymouth
Score by quarters
Northridge: 10 17 33 53
Plymouth: 12 28 38 60
NORTHRIDGE (53): Sam Ahonen 2 2-2 6, Arick Doberenz 0 0-2 0, Gavin Blyly 7 2-2 20, Austin Moniot 1 0-0 2, Joey Ganyard 1 1-2 3, Nate Ritchie 4 4-6 13, Zach Flifford 0 0-0 0, Pete Smith 3 0-0 9; Totals: 18 9-14 53.
PLYMOUTH (60): Ryan McNeil 2 0-0 4, Gabe Vervynckt 0 0-0 0, Joe Knapp 3 0-0 7, Connor Flynn 1 0-0 2, Mack Mercer 11 9-13 31, Ike Kastner 0 0-0 0, Kyser McCrammer 0 0-0 0, John Ruff 1 5-6 7, Kyle Kaser 3 0-0 7, Tom Felke 0 2-2 2, Hayden Skirvin 0 0-0 0; Totals: 21 16-21 60.
3-pointers: Northridge 8 (Blyly 4, Smith 3, Ritchie), Plymouth 2 (Knapp, Kaser); Turnovers: Northridge 15, Plymouth 15; Rebounds: Northridge 22 (Ahonen 4, Ritchie 4), Plymouth 24 (Mercer 11); Steals: Northridge 7 (Ritchie 3), Plymouth 8 (Knapp 2, Mercer 2, Kastner 2); Assists: Northridge 13 (Ahonen 5), Plymouth 16 (Felke 4); Fouls (fouled out): Northridge 16 (none), Plymouth 14 (none).
Records: Plymouth 9-4 (3-1 NLC), Northridge 6-7 (0-4)
JV score: Northridge 40 (Tom Morrison 14), Plymouth 25 (Zach Stone 7, Scott Carmichael 6)