MACON — Paul Hewitt said he and his Georgia Tech players learned some important lessons in their overtime win at Mercer on Saturday.
Lesson number one: Think twice before again playing a Mercer team coached by Bob Hoffman.
Hoffman, in his first season at Mercer, fell short in his bid for a third upset of a major-college team as Georgia Tech, which never led in regulation, survived to beat his Bears 82-76 in overtime on Saturday.
Mercer, which already has victories at Alabama and Auburn, led Georgia Tech by 18 points in the second half.
Hewitt acknowledged he expected a much easier win over Mercer, which was only 11-19 last season.
"I did not, unfortunately, know anything about Coach Hoffman or I never would have scheduled the game," Hewitt said, forcing a smile.
A 16-0 run gave Mercer a 58-40 lead with 12 minutes left in regulation. Georgia Tech (2-0) used its pressure defense and size advantage to rally.
E.J. Kusnyer had 22 points for Mercer (3-1) and hit three 3-pointers in the 16-0 run.
Gani Lawal led Georgia Tech with 27 points and Zachery Peacock added 19.
Mercer players said they lost the lead as they lost their aggressive edge.
"We were trying to survive," said James Florence, who led Mercer with 26 points.
"Instead of trying to stay aggressive, we just kind of laid back and tried to keep the lead rather than push it up. We just sat back and gave them the momentum. That's something we can learn from."
Peacock's two free throws pulled Georgia Tech even for the first time at 69-all with 32 seconds left in regulation.
Lawal blocked a shot by Florence with 4 seconds left in regulation to force the overtime.
Georgia Tech's defense forced 28 turnovers and had 16 steals and seven blocked shots. Lawal had three blocks and three steals.
"We were really in the passing lanes with a lot of energy, a lot of anticipation," Lawal said. "Defense led to some early baskets. We were able to just kind of ride that."
Hoffman said his team struggled to make passes against Georgia Tech's 6-foot-10 Aminu, 6-foot-8 Peacock and 6-foot-9 Lawal.
Georgia Tech often guarded the 6-foot-1 Florence with 6-foot-5 freshman Iman Shumpert, causing more problems. Shumpert had five steals.
"We've played really good teams but they weren't as long as these guys, who covered so much space," Hoffman said, adding his players struggled to pass and kept running into traffic when trying to make back cuts to create scoring opportunities.
"I think a lot of it was we hadn't had a lead like that before," Hoffman said. "Every game that we won on the road we had to grind out, and we kind of stayed in the moment that way.
"We did some things we probably shouldn't have done in terms of complacency and execution, but I really think (Georgia Tech) had a lot to do with that."
Mercer made its first five 3-pointers to lead 17-6 and managed to keep the lead despite missing its last eight 3-pointers of the first half.
Florence had three of the early 3-pointers and had 17 points as Mercer led 35-34 at the break.
Mercer led only 42-40 early in the second half before a steal by Florence and basket by BeJay Corley started the 16-0 run for a 58-40 lead.
Hewitt extended his team's pressure defense in the final 10 minutes to spur the comeback.
Georgia Tech carried the momentum from its second-half comeback into the overtime period. Aminu scored the first four points in the extra period and the Yellow Jackets kept the lead.
Georgia Tech played without forward Bassirou Dieng, who suffered a sprained ankle in practice on Thursday. Dieng's injury left the team with only seven healthy scholarship players.
Mercer drew a school-record 3,304 to its University Center for the homecoming weekend game.