Men’s Basketball Team Goes Far on Skill and Hard Work


When the men’s basketball team ended its season in the Northeast District Tournament on March 11 with a close loss to Orange CC (NY), Head Coach Kelly Williams acknowledged that “as a coach you always want one more game.” But he’s more than satisfied with the Vikings’ 22-7 season and its first trip to the Northeast District Tournament since 1998.

“It was by far the best season in my seven years as coach,” Williams said. “The players made the effort both athletically and academically.” Even the losses were close, he notes, with three of them in overtime, and three others by less than 10 points. Strong games included a 77-76 victory in double overtime against Salem on Jan. 19, and solid wins against regional rivals Del Tech, Ocean, and Essex. Williams enjoyed his 100th career win in a 63-50 victory over Brookdale on November 29.

Lackawanna proved to be Mercer’s toughest Region 19 opponent, defeating Mercer twice during the regular season and again in the regional championship on March 4, when the Vikings suffered a heartbreaking 76-73 loss in overtime. Still, the Vikings’ strong record earned them a trip to the districts. There they faced Orange CC (NY) on March 11, losing 84-79 after falling prey to a seven-point Orange scoring run in the final minutes. Even in defeat there were still some shining stars including guard Mantas Armonas, who scored 20 points, and 6’8” center Jores Dongo, who added 16 points and 13 rebounds.

All season long, Mercer got stellar contributions from numerous play-makers, relying on speed and a full-court defense that tired many worthy opponents. The Vikings relied on experienced sophomores Armonas, who averaged 15 points per game, and Cliff Barnhill, whose role as point guard was critical, particularly in the closing games of the season.

Freshmen made up the rest of the line-up. Williams was particularly pleased with this recruiting class. “They were really good kids. It made my job a lot easier. Armonas and Barnhill set a tone that the freshmen players signed on to,” he noted. Freshman starting point guard Eric Blackmon-Hayes served as team captain. Other freshmen notables were forwards Landry Nguema, Anthony Ross and Don McCall, and guard Craig Dacres.

“This was a young group,” Williams said. “This first-year experience should help to make them stronger mentally and physically for next year. That has always been my vision: to produce quality players and keep them here for two years.”

First team All-Region and All-GSAC honors went to Dongo and Armonas.

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