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Lawal, Yellow Jackets pull away from Mercer

The Associated Press . Georgia Tech forward Derrick Favors, center, battles for loose ball against Mercer forward and Norcross grad Daniel Emerson, left, and guard E.J. Kusnyer, right, on Friday at Alexander Memorial Coliseum  in Atlanta.

The Associated Press . Georgia Tech forward Derrick Favors, center, battles for loose ball against Mercer forward and Norcross grad Daniel Emerson, left, and guard E.J. Kusnyer, right, on Friday at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in Atlanta.

ATLANTA -- Mfon Udofia is beginning to understand what coach Paul Hewitt wants him to do as Georgia Tech's freshman point guard.

''We definitely were trying to go inside,'' Udofia said. ''That's where our offense comes from. We're gaining confidence.''

Udofia and freshman forward Derrick Favors each scored 16 points, and Georgia Tech withstood a scare for the second straight year from Mercer in an 85-74 win on Friday.

Norcross grad Gani Lawal finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Yellow Jackets (4-1), who have won three straight.

Hewitt wasn't pleased with Udofia's play in the first half, so he gave most of the minutes to junior Moe Miller and let the freshman watch.

''Obviously we can still improve and (passing the ball is) something we have to keep working on,'' Hewitt said. ''But we'll keep taking what the defense gives us. I would like to see us dump the ball in more to Derrick and Gani. Especially Derrick because he's such a good passer.''

James Florence scored a career-high 40 points for the Bears (3-3), who have dropped two straight.

Florence became the ninth opposing player to score at least 40 against the Jackets and the first since Tyler Hansbrough, who had 40 in Tech's 82-75 loss at North Carolina on Feb. 14, 2006.

Georgia Tech struggled with Mercer last season in Macon, before forcing overtime and escaping with an 82-76 win that included 26 points from Florence.

The Bears, despite losing by 39 to Florida State last weekend, were nearly as much trouble again for the Jackets, cutting the lead to two when E.J. Kusnyer hit a 3 early in the second half.

But the Yellow Jackets went on a 25-11 run that took nearly 10 minutes and ended with freshman Brian Oliver's 3-pointer from the right wing and a 73-57 lead with 7:59 remaining.

Florence's previous career high was 39 in 2007 against Jacksonville. The senior guard, who was 14-for-20 from the field, is 113 points from becoming Mercer's career-leading scorer behind Sam Mitchell.

''We tried to get back to the way we had been (playing), which was doubling our opponent's free throws,'' Florence said after going 9-for-11 from the foul line. ''So I just went in trying to get to the free throw line. Fortunately there were a lot of gaps, and I was able to finish.''

Udofia and Oliver combined to score 18 points during Tech's 25-11 run.

Favors scored seven points in the second half, going 5-for-6 on free throws, but his presence was mostly felt on defense. The 6-foot-10, 246-pound Atlanta native blocked three of his four shots in the second half.

With Favors standing in his way, Mercer forward Daniel Emerson, a Norcross grad, had two shots blocked in the second half and missed two other inside attempts. Emerson finished with 12 rebounds, but he was just 3-for-14 from the field.

''He and Brian (Mills) and all of guys might have been out-matched, but they were not out-hustled,'' Bears coach Bob Hoffman. ''Danny Emerson is a tough kid. He played great position defense tonight.''

The Bears play their Atlantic Sun Conference opener next Wednesday against Lipscomb.

Georgia Tech, which won its last two games last week to finish fifth in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, hosts Siena on Tuesday before Southern Cal visits Alexander Memorial Coliseum next weekend.

The Jackets, who are trying to overcome two consecutive losing seasons and three in their last four, improved to 27-16 against Mercer with their eighth straight win in the series.

Hewitt, though, was disappointed in Tech's defense after the Bears became the first opponent pull down more rebounds than the Jackets this season.

''There were probably about 11 points that were given up just because they out-hustled us to loose balls,'' Hewitt said. ''That was the difference in the first half and why they were able to gain more confidence.''