ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox was wondering Saturday why the Bulldogs keep playing in-state foe Mercer.
''We have played them four times, and it has never been easy,'' said Fox after Georgia escaped with an 86-77, triple overtime win. Charles Mann led the Bulldogs with 22 points.
''Why do we keep scheduling them?'' Fox asked. ''They are such a well-coached team, and they play it the right way. I will cheer for them the rest of the year.''
Mercer got the biggest win in program history last spring when it bumped Duke from the NCAA tournament, but this team bears little resemblance.
''I love (Mercer head coach) Bob Hoffman,'' Fox said. ''I've got a ton of respect for him.''
The Bulldogs got 17 points apiece from Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic. Thornton had 11 rebounds before fouling out in the third overtime. Kenny Gaines added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Jordan Strawberry led Mercer (6-7) with a career-high 21 points. His 3-point jumper from the corner at the end of regulation forced overtime. But he could not find the magic at the end of the first overtime, missing to win with seven seconds to play.
Tied 72-72 after two extra periods, Georgia bolted out to a quick 78-72 lead in the third overtime, with Gaines converting a three-point play and Mann a 3-point basket. Mercer managed only two field goals, both by Strawberry, after the Bulldogs were up by nine with less than 49 seconds to play.
Hoffman praised both teams.
''I told them they fought their tails off,'' he said. ''They played like champions, and they deserved to win tonight against a really, really good team. It's just one of those teams that should be in the tournament.''
Georgia led by as much as 12 points early in the second half, but two cold spells let Mercer back in the game. Mann's layup with 56 seconds put Georgia up 51-48. But after two Bears misses, Strawberry hit a 3-pointer as the clock hit zero.
''I was nervous while the ball was in the air, but it went in,'' said Strawberry.
In the first overtime, nobody scored after Strawberry's jumper tied it 62-all with 90 seconds left. After Mann slipped and traveled with 18 seconds left, Strawberry missed for the win with seven seconds to play.
In the second overtime, Mercer led 72-70 when Strawberry missed a wild hook as the shot-clock wound down. Gaines scored on a baseline drive to tie it 72-72 with just 3.6 seconds to go.