Bottoms, who scored 16 points in the fourth quarter in a reserve role Friday in the Scotties' regular-season finale against Pulaski Southwestern, continued his torrid shooting pace in the first half and kept Mercer in the game.
"My shots have been falling, and as a sophomore that is a key," Bottoms said. "Confidence is everything and right now I am real confident in my shot."
Burgin had the confidence to begin the second quarter as back-to-back treys from Zack Gross and Josh Carey plus a putback by Bobby Wylie enabled the Bulldogs to grab their largest lead at 25-15 less than two minutes into the second frame.
However, Burgin turned the ball over three times in four possessions and Mercer rallied when Bottoms, who led all scorers with 22 points, scored eight points and John Lyons added four to tie the score at 29-29. Sean Bottoms' old-fashioned three-point play gave Burgin a 32-29 lead and the Bulldogs led 32-30 at halftime.
"(Mercer) changed defenses on us and started hounding Zack (Gross) all the way down the floor," Burgin coach Don Irvine said. "Every time we turned the ball over, they made the play."
Momentum turned late in the half
Edwards said the momentum turned late in the half.
"Our kids showed some courage coming back just before halftime," the Mercer coach said. "When we needed points the most, they got them on the defensive end of the floor. We just didn't get much done until late in the first half on the offensive end. We settled down to play better in the second half. Michael hit some big shots, had good moves inside and had a great floor game."
In their first meeting, Burgin dominated the backboards in the first half only to get outrebounded in the second half. Monday, it was the same. Mercer, outrebounded 23-18 during the first half, decided to go to the glass much harder in the third period. The Scotties outrebounded the Bulldogs 17-8 during the frame and collected nine offensive rebounds in the quarter, the main reason they led 52-48 entering the final quarter.
"That was the one thing that we put on the board before the game," Edwards said. "We talked about it again at halftime, and the guys did a much better job in the third quarter."
Irvine said fatigue finally began to set in on his team in the third quarter.
"We played a lot of zone because I wanted to try to keep us out of foul trouble," the Burgin coach said. "Plus, I thought we began to tire some. They just out-muscled us on the boards in the third quarter. They were consistently getting second and third shots at the basket."
The Scotties opened the final frame in a 1-2-2 zone that forced three straight Burgin turnovers and Mercer received a pair of layups and a trey from Kameron McRay to grab its largest lead at 63-52. Burgin eventually closed the gap to 69-66, but could get no closer.
Irvine, who coached the last Burgin team to make it to the regional tournament, returned to the bench this year and thought this year's team had a shot at going back again.
"It breaks my heart that this group of kids can't go play in the region," Irvine said. "They have accomplished so much for this school. They played hard for me all year. Next year's team may actually be better because of what these kids have done. They practice against them every day, and next year it will be their turn."
BURGIN (11-15) - Shane Trayner 2, Joe Harris 13, Daniel Howard 3, Josh Carey 10, Zack Gross 16, Bobby Wylie 6, Sean Bottoms 16.
MERCER (11-14) - John Lyons 11, Kameron McRay 15, Daniel Goodpaster 6, Michael Bottoms 22, Jordan Lyons 13, Colby Warren 4.