The school's string symphony performed the national anthem, and the Little League World Series champions from nearby Warner Robins, Ga., were honored at halftime. NBA scouts occupied several seats at the scorer's table and media row was packed.
Fans anticipated another upset for the once-woebegone conference that already has produced upsets of Kentucky, Cincinnati and USC during the first week of the season.
And the Bears, who had finished 13-17 last season and were picked to finish fifth in the A-Sun by media this season, were brimming with confidence. Beating a USC team chock-full of former McDonald's All-Americans, including sensational freshman O.J. Mayo, tends to do that to a middling mid-major.
"We want to get to the NCAA tournament," said Mercer guard James Florence, who nearly matched Mayo's 32 points with 30 points of his own in Los Angeles last weekend. "But after we beat USC, we saw where we were getting votes in the Top 25. Our expectations kind of changed."
Alabama doesn't have a guard as talented as Mayo. The Crimson Tide had one of the country's best point guards, but senior Ronald Steele is redshirting this season while recovering from surgeries on both knees.
But what Alabama does have is what a lot of teams like Mercer rarely have: a dominating inside player.
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Things I didn't know... Lex Luger's kid plays for Mercer (Brian Pfohl). He did his best to cover Hendrix, but couldn't.