KENNESAW, Ga. -- Kennesaw State head coach Lewis Preston was seeking a way to ready his team for its Atlantic Sun Conference contest against in-state rival Mercer on Saturday.
Preston recalled the effort and performance the Owls turned in during a 61-57 setback to the Bears a year ago at the KSU Convocation Center. He decided to play the video of that game in the locker room during warm-ups before the two teams met for the first team this season.
The tactic paid big dividends as sophomore guard Delbert Love scored a career-high 32 points and senior forwarded Markeith Cummings poured in 21 points and added a season-high five assists to lead Kennesaw State to an 83-75 victory over Mercer before a home crowd and ESPN3 audience.
The Owls (2-13, 1-2) came out hot as they hit their first five shots - all three-pointers - and never trailed in the game en route to setting a host of season-highs, including points scored and field goal percentage (51.4 percent).
Senior forward Travis Smith led four Mercer (9-7, 2-1) players in double figures with 18 points. Junior guard Kevin Canevari contributed 13 points, while junior forwards Bud Thomas and Jakob Gollon scored 12 and 10 points, respectively.
"When you put 40 minutes together and you play with great energy and great effort and you hustle, you can impose your will," Preston said. "Don't get me wrong, some of the three's that we knocked down early kind of helped set the tone for us."
Kennesaw State wasted little time setting that tone as it immediately forced a turnover, came down on its first offensive possession and Love knocked down a three-point shot that would begin a record night for the Owls. Love's basket sparked a 17-5 run to open play as he and Cummings accounted 15 of those points, making three and two treys, respectively.
"I think the crowd helped us from the start," Cummings said. "The freshmen have never seen the crowd like that and that gave us a boost. We just came out and played really hard for 40 minutes."
Cummings and Love accounted for 53 of the Owls' 83 points and went a combined 12-for-22 (54.5) from the field, including 6-for-10 (60.0 percent) from behind the three-point arc. Kennesaw State finished the game with a season-high tying nine made three-pointers.
"Coach always talks about for 40 minutes come out and play a complete game. Like he said, it wasn't perfect but we played hard, gave it our all and came out on top," Love said. "Coach told us after watching film that they were going to give us looks, and if we run hard, we cut hard and make vertical cuts, we were going to get people open."
The Owls, who never trailed in the game, were in command throughout the first half and led 39-35 at halftime. Love finished the opening 20 minutes with 17 points while Cummings contributed 10 points.
The halftime intermission did not cool down Kennesaw State as it opened the second half with a 9-0 run to build its biggest lead of the game at 48-35 with 15:08 remaining. The Owls maintained a double-digit lead for most of the final period before the Bears went on a late run to cut the lead to five points with less than a minute to play.
Love did not rely on just long-range shooting as he was able to penetrate to the basket that enabled him to set career-highs for free throws made (14) and free throws attempted (15). The sophomore guard helped the Owls set school records for free throws made (38) and free throws attempted (55).
"I'm very happy with the effort, the energy and the enthusiasm. I think we came together as a team today," Preston said. "I'm going to make sure that they understand that this is the byproduct of coming together and everybody understanding what they need to do for us to be successful."
Kennesaw State resumes A-Sun Conference play on Thursday, Jan. 10, when it travels to Florida to take on Jacksonville at the Veterans Memorial Arena beginning at 7 p.m.
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