ATHENS, Ga. - RJ Melendez scored 14 points in the first half and finished with a new career-best in scoring with 18 as the Georgia men's basketball team defeated Mercer, 80-69, on Friday night before 5,694 spectators inside Stegeman Coliseum.
Melendez's 18 led all scorers as five Bulldogs (5-3) reached double-digit points on the night. Jabri Abdur-Rahim and Silas Demary Jr. each had 13 points, with Demary Jr. adding seven rebounds, while Russel Tchewa came just shy of a double-double with 10 points and eight boards. Justin Hill had 11 points and four rebounds, marking the third-straight game he has reached double figures, all while coming off the bench. In total, Georgia won the battle on the glass against Mercer (2-5) by a 39-29 margin, including a 33-19 edge on the defensive end.
Georgia came out in the first half with its offense firing on all cylinders, sinking 68.4 percent of its first-half field goals and carrying a 44-31 lead into the locker room. Melendez came one shy of breaking his season-high in points in the first half alone with his 14 points and pair of 3-pointers. The Bulldogs continued to keep the Bears at bay throughout the beginning of the second frame, opening on a 10-2 run thanks in large part to the team's success at the free throw line. Mercer subsequently responded with a 12-3 run of its own but was unable to get the lead down any closer than nine points as Georgia tied its season high in points scored.
Georgia will return to action on Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET for its rivalry game against Georgia Tech. The game, which will be the second of a six-game homestand, will be televised on the SEC Network. This will be the 199th matchup between the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets all time, with Georgia winning five of the previous seven games against its in-state adversary.
Five Fast Facts • RJ Melendez finished with a career-high in points with 18, with 14 coming in the first half alone. • Georgia won the battle of the glass for the second time this season, out-rebounding Mercer by a 39-29 margin, including a 33-19 edge in defensive rebounding. • Justin Hill reached double-digits in scoring for the third-straight game and fourth time this season, coming off the bench in each contest in the 2023-24 campaign. • The Bulldogs outscored the Bears in bench points by a 38-32 margin. Georgia has now outscored opponents in bench points in all but one game this season. • Russel Tchewa hit double-figures in points for just the second time this season with 10 points and eight rebounds. He also tied his personal best of one block for the 31st time in his career.
Key Quote Head Coach Mike White: "That was a good win for us. I have a lot of respect for the Mercer program and Greg Gary and his staff. How they executed and prepared was really good. They kept fighting, of course, and executing. On defense they're deliberate. The way they executed and shared the ball led to so many different types of actions we had to guard. There's a lot of stuff we've got to clean up moving forward. I think that team is going to compete at a high level in their conference, as they do every year. This was a game we were fortunate enough to win down the stretch. We did enough and shot really well. There were too many turnovers in the second half and too many rhythm threes from those guys, but I thought they executed very well."
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The starting lineup was freshman Silas Demary Jr., seniors Jabri Abdur-Rahim and Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe and graduates Noah Thomasson and Russel Tchewa.
Georgia is now 56-23 all-time versus Mercer, winning the last 11 meetings.
The Bulldogs led for 17:15 of the first half.
Georgia had 20 points off the bench in the first half.
The Bulldogs shot 68.4% from the field in the first half.
Georgia set a new season-high in free throws made (30) and free-throws attempted (42).
The Bulldogs recorded their highest field goal percentage of the season (52.5%).
Georgia tied its season-high in total points scored in a game (80).
The Bulldogs outrebounded the Bears 39-29, winning the battle on the defensive end 33-19.
Justin Hill reached double figure scoring for the third straight game and fourth time this season, coming off the bench in each game.
Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe made his first start this season.
Hill tied his season-high with three rebounds on the night.
Melendez set a new career-high 18 points.
Tchewa posted his first steal of the season.
Tchewa posted double figure scoring for the second time this season (10).
Tchewa tied his career-high in blocked shots (1), marking his 31st game with one block in his career.
Georgia Head Coach Mike White
"That was a good win for us. I have a lot of respect for the Mercer program and Greg Gary and his staff. How they executed and prepared was really good. They kept fighting, of course, and executing. On defense they're deliberate. The way they executed and shared the ball led to so many different types of actions we had to guard. There's a lot of stuff we've got to clean up moving forward. I think that team is going to compete at a high level in their conference, as they do every year. This was a game we were fortunate enough to win down the stretch. We did enough and shot really well. There were too many turnovers in the second half and too many rhythm threes from those guys, but I thought they executed very well."
On the importance of tonight's game after FSU win...
"Of course, we talked about it. We had a 24-hour prep for this game. There's a lot of pride our guys played with down the stretch to gut one out. I thought our focus and energy level in the shoot around was pretty good. Yesterday we did hardly anything, some of those guys didn't get in bed until four in the morning from coming back to town a couple of nights ago. I was really pleased with our first-half effort overall. We weren't overly sharp defensively, but I thought we were really sharp offensively in the first 20. Then I thought Mercer's pressure got to us a little bit which led to too many turnovers by us."
On Melendez's performance against Mercer...
"He's coming off the bench and playing starter's minutes, he's one of our best players and it's nice to see it go through the net for him tonight. He was perfect from the foul line and for him to convert from three was not only pleasing to him but for his teammates to see. It was almost as if everyone took a deep breath because he's a good shooter. He shoots good percentages in practice. It was only a matter of time and hopefully it helps him moving forward."
On the difference offensively between the first and second halves...
"We had a lot of balance, really liked how it moved in the first half. Needed to move it better in the second, we weren't on offense a lot and had a bunch of turnovers. We didn't have a ton of pretty possessions there in the second half and got to have a lot more versus our next opponent of course to have a chance."
On the team having a six-game homestand...
""The start we got off to with the travel and coming off such an emotional win, a hard fought win. It was two teams flying around the court and tons of fouls called. A lot of physicality, the way that we won and the fashion in which it ended. For us to play as hard as we did tonight, those are positives there. I thought Mercer played really hard. Just another hard fought win for us."
#4 | Silas Demary Jr. | Fr. | G
On the importance of following up FSU win with win against Mercer...
"That was definitely important. It was a big game Wednesday, got back late, Thursday early morning, and then we come back here and play Friday. We had one game day prep. It was important that we were locked in. We got time to relax but it was important that we were locked in on the game plan. We needed to understand that game was over, we need to look at the next one. We had to play Mercer today. It was big for us to come back here and not worry about the game that happened 48 hours ago."
On the defense not performing to expectations against Mercer...
"We know we are a team that can score. I think we're a top 50 defense right now. We know that the offense is always going to be there, we're just trying to get better on the defensive side every day. If we want to keep being inside that top 50, we have to get stops like tonight. There were a few times when we missed some assignments, but sometimes that's going to happen. We just have to make sure that happens the least amount of times and keep showing that we are a top 50 defense."
On being sent to the free throw line against a physical team...
"I feel like they were physical, but in practice we're always beating each other up. For us at the free throw line, we do eighties every day. We do that probably seven, eight, or nine times a day. We take missing free throws seriously. We don't want to miss any free throws, although no one is going to be perfect. We take being critical at the free throw line important."
#15 | RJ Melendez | Jr. | G
On keeping the momentum going tonight after the win at Florida State...
"Yesterday was a more mental day, so coach definitely emphasized that, we have to build up from that and just keep ramping up. Today we didn't do a great job on defense but, a win is a win. We'll get better and for sure have great preparation for Georgia Tech."
On playing with confidence the last two games...
"Coach made some changes in the lineups, it didn't bother me, whatever coach thinks is better for the team to win. It doesn't matter if I'm the eighth man, seventh man off the bench or starting lineup, I don't care as long as we're winning. Just letting the game come to me and not forcing anything has benefited me a lot. Not pushing anything or rushing has made me gain confidence."
On Georgia's rebounding success tonight...
"Coach has definitely emphasized rebounding, we've been seeing the numbers that we've been getting outrebounded. So, we've been doing a lot of drills to make sure we hit and rebound. We didn't do a great job today, but coach emphasizes that every single practice."