It’s not often that a first-round bye in a tournament of any kind is classified as negative.
Elon University men’s basketball head coach Matt Matheny is happy with the bye, but concerned that his team might end up being a little behind their second round opponents in the Southern Conference Basketball Tournament March 2-5 in Asheville.
“The bye is an interesting thing,” Matheny said. “It’s almost like dead man walking because you’re sitting there and they have game experience on the court. Having been in that situation before, you don’t know how your team is going to react.”
With the Phoenix’s 93-79 victory over SoCon North Division champions UNC Greensboro Feb. 25, and Samford University’s loss to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Matheny’s squad clinched a first-round bye in the tournament and will face the winner of Chattanooga and Georgia Southern University March 3 at 8:30 p.m.
“The bye is always a good thing,” Elon sophomore forward Lucas Troutman said. “It’s a help on legs and a help on the mind. When you go into the tournament on a bye, you’ve got an advantage.”
The Phoenix ended a five-game losing skid with the victory over the Spartans. After scoring only 45 points in a loss to South Division champion Davidson College Feb. 23, Elon had no problem reaching that number against UNCG.
“Going into the conference tournament with a six-game losing streak, nobody wants to do that,” Phoenix sophomore forward Ryley Beaumont said. “We were really prepared for the game knowing that it was an important game.”
The victory was the final game at Alumni Gym for senior guard Drew Spradlin, who had nine points and four rebounds on Senior Night.
“It was emotional, but honestly I was just so relieved and happy to be going out on a win,” Spradlin said. “It’s been a great four years. I could have never even imagined the kind of career I’ve had and the kind of people I’ve met playing here.”
But his career is not over. The Mocs or Bulldogs await.
“We’re so far along in the season that whoever we’re going to play, we know them pretty well,” Matheny said. “We’ve played one of them (Chattanooga) twice, the other one (Georgia Southern) once. You feel like you know them, but more importantly, we know who we are.”
The Mocs finished last in the North Division this season. The Phoenix defeated Chattanooga 88-87 Jan. 21 at home, but fell on the road to the Mocs 83-75 Feb. 9. Troutman and sophomore guard Jack Isenbarger both averaged 16.5 points per game in those contests.
Elon lost to Georgia Southern 69-63 in their only match-up of the season Jan. 5. Isenbarger had 17 points off the bench and Troutman had 16 points and nine rebounds.
The Phoenix will benefit in the tournament from the healthy return of freshman guard Austin Hamilton, who had 11 points, five assists and four rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench. But for the last two games, Elon has been without fellow freshman guard Kevin Blake, who is fighting mononucleosis.
“People are going to get hurt and sick and not be able to play games,” Beaumont said. “A good team is going to take that and do what we have to do to get the wins anyway, adjust what players have to do.”
While the streak-ending victory over the Spartans was key for the Phoenix’s confidence, it means little as far as the actual tournament goes.
“Getting this victory gives us a so much better feeling,” Matheny said. "But it guarantees us absolutely nothing in the tournament.”