NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Jestin Lewis already knew he was on his way to play at Mercer as a junior college player in 2014 when he watched the No. 14 seed Bears upset powerhouse Duke in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament.
Lewis finally added a Power 5 conference win to his own resume on Saturday night, scoring 21 points as the Southern Conference Bears (9-2) held on for a 69-66 overtime win over Arkansas.
The win was the first over a Power 5 school for Mercer since its dramatic win over the Blue Devils two seasons ago, and it came in large part thanks to Lewis — the senior who followed a career-high 28-point effort in a loss to Auburn by hitting 5 of 9 3-pointers.
"It's big to us," Lewis said. "It means a lot ... We just play with big hearts all the time, and we play together."
While Lewis led the way for the Bears, Stephon Jelks added a career-high 20 points and 15 rebounds, and Demetre Rivers had 15 points.
None were bigger for Rivers than his putback with 12 seconds remaining in overtime, a basket that gave Mercer — which never trailed in overtime — a 65-63 lead. The basket came after the Bears third offensive rebound of the possession, and it was Rivers who grabbed his own miss for the go-ahead score.
From there, Jelks hit four free throws in the finals seconds while Mercer was able to withstand a late 3-pointer by Arkansas' Anton Beard and hold on for the 69-66 win.
"It was just a huge accomplishment for our team, our program, our university," Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said. "We're blessed that we've been able to do that a few times; it's fun to get another one."
While Mercer celebrated its biggest win since the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, Arkansas (5-5) was once again left to pick up the pieces following another difficult loss in a season full of them so far.
The Razorbacks, runners-up in the Southeastern Conference a year ago, had their modest two-game winning streak snapped in gut-wrenching fashion — particularly because of how well they had played lately entering the game in central Arkansas.
Moses Kingsley led Arkansas with 18 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. Anthlon Bell added 16 points and Dusty Hannahs 10, but the Razorbacks shot just 38.1 percent (24 of 63) in their second loss this season to a non-Power 5 school.
"We've got a down locker room in there right now," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "Because they thought they came in here ready to play."
Arkansas had the ball with the score tied at 63 with 50 seconds remaining, but a turnover by Hannahs gave the Bears the ball back.
It was then that Rivers grabbed his own miss — Mercer's third offensive rebound of the possession — and put it back to give the Bears the lead for good.
Hannahs followed by missing a 3-pointer for the Razorbacks, and Mercer went up 67-63 on Jelks' free throws.
Beard closed the lead to 67-66 for Arkansas with a 3-pointer with one second remaining. Jelks hit two more free throws to go up 69-66, and Beard's final half-court heave missed off the backboard to seal the win for the Bears.
Mercer led throughout the first half and by as many as 13 points in the second half. The 13-point advantage came after a 15-0 run for the Bears, including three 3-pointers by Jelks — the last of which rolled around the basket before dropping through to put Mercer up 41-28.
Arkansas responded with a 20-5 burst fueled by the hot shooting of Hannahs. The Razorbacks leading scorer hadn't scored up until that point but had eight of Arkansas' points during the run.
Hannahs tied the game at 54 for the Razorbacks with 18 seconds remaining in regulation, and Mercer had a chance to win the game in the final seconds when Phillip Leonard's jumper came up short.
Mercer: After struggling to shoot the ball in the first half, the Bears finished strong — shooting 48.1 percent (13 of 27) in the second half and 4 of 9 in overtime.
Arkansas: Beard made his return for the Razorbacks after missing the first semester following a summer arrest on forgery charges. The sophomore, and All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team selection last year, finished with six points on 2-of-7 shooting in 18 minutes of action.
Bell and Hannahs entered the game as the top 3-point shooting combo in the SEC, having combined for 55 makes from behind the arc. However, facing a Mercer defense keying on them, they struggled to find easy shots and finished a combined 4 of 10 on 3-point attempts and 9 of 20 overall from the field.
Mercer is at Ohio State on Tuesday.
Arkansas hosts North Florida on Tuesday.