The Bulldogs (9-2) completed their pre-Christmas slate with yet another close contest. After sprinting to a big early lead, they struggled with foul trouble as Mercer (3-8) gained its footing in the game.
A Thompkins layup with 12:40 left in the first half put Georgia ahead 19-8. Mercer responded by scoring the next 11 points, tying the game on a layin by Jake Gollon at the 11:22 mark. After the teams twice traded baskets, the Bears took a 26-23 lead on a 3-pointer by Langston Hall with 7:45 left in the half. Georgia, meanwhile, managed but a single free throw for the first half's remainder and found itself trailing 31-24 at intermission.
"You've got to give Mercer credit for the way they played tonight," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "They played an inspired game in a great atmosphere. We feel fortunate to have gotten this victory.
The outlook seemed bleaker still with 8:32 left in the game, when Mercer's Jeff Smith canned two foul shots to put the Bears ahead by their largest margin at 48-37. Only then did the Bulldogs begin to scratch their way back into contention.
Six straight points by Thompkins -- a 3-pointer first and an old-fashioned 3-point play a minute later -- got Georgia within five at 48-43. His two free throws with 5:38 left pulled the Bulldogs within 48-47. Jeremy Price followed a Thompkins steal by giving Georgia the lead on a layup with 4:53 left.
Thereafter, the lead changed hands twice more before Price put the Bulldogs ahead for good at 54-53 on a foul shot with 52 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Mercer's Brian Mills, who led all scorers with 21 points, traveled as the shot clock dwindled with 21 seconds remaining.
The Bears had one final possession after Georgia committed its own turnover on the inbounds play. Mills, however, fumbled away a possible layin with just two ticks left.
Georgia will reconvene in Athens on Sunday before resuming its non-conference schedule Tuesday against Charleston Southern.