Elon University’s Men’s Basketball team has long preached the concept of “Elevate Elon,” the idea that the Phoenix would be a competitive team capable of winning games in the NCAA Tournament. On Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., Elon played at that level, but second-half adjustments by Georgetown University were just enough to outdo the Phoenix. Despite winning the rebound margin, Elon fell to the host Hoyas 85-76.
“That’s a tournament team,” Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said after the game. “We knew that it would be a tough game, we would have to play well to have a chance to win it.”
Despite the loss, Elon head coach Matt Matheny was pleased with his team’s effort.
“We were aggressive for 40 minutes,” Matheny said. “I’m encouraged by the way we played.”
The Hoyas of the Big East Conference trailed 40-39 at halftime, but shot 65.2 percent in the second half, including hitting 10 of their first 13 shots. In one 90-second stretch early in the half, senior guard Markel Starks hit three consecutive three-point shots for the Hoyas, making up nine of his game-high 21 points. Combine the dazzling offense with a major defensive change, and Georgetown regained control in the second half. Georgetown switched from a man-to-man defense to a zone look for the second half.
“They were in a rhythm offensively so we switched to zone (defense),” Thompson said. “And our zone was better than our man. It slowed them down a little bit.”
Elon was unable to adjust to the aggressive defense, and only made five three-pointers on 12 attempts in the second half. Overall, the Hoya defense limited Elon’s shooting by 15 percent compared to the first half, though Elon attempted two more field goals after intermission.
“They have a lot of length in their zone and they really stretched out in their zone,” Matheny said. “We kept thinking we’re going to get them on a three, (but) we needed to attack the belly of it.”
The first half was back-and-forth, with the two teams exchanging the lead 11 times over the 20 minutes of play. Neither team built a lead greater than six points. Elon was keyed by eight three pointers, two each from a group of four players- sophomore guard Tanner Samson, junior guard Austin Hamilton and senior guards Jack Isenbarger and Sebastian Koch.
“I think we have several guys that can shoot the three,” Matheny said. “It was great to have four guys that had multiple threes.”
It was Hamilton, from nearby Herndon, Va., whose nine points paced the Phoenix at halftime.
Despite the halftime lead, an Achilles’ heel for the Phoenix was free-throw shooting. Entering Elon’s game against Virginia Military Institute on Dec. 3, the Maroon and Gold ranked third in the nation in free-throw percentage. On this night, however, Elon would shoot only 9 of 18 from the free throw line. Those nine missed free throws, of which six came in the first half, wound up equaling the margin of defeat.
“We have very good free-throw shooters,” Matheny said. “We will continue to work. It makes it tough to win this game when you’re 9 of 18.”
Georgetown led by as much as 11 points throughout the second half, though Elon was not able to trim the lead below five points between 15:21 and 1:04 remaining. Elon trailed 78-67 with 1:40 left, but a technical foul on junior center Joshua Smith of Georgetown gave Elon life. Samson hit a pair of free throws, followed by a dunk from senior forward Lucas Troutman. A jumper from Koch and subsequent free throw completed a three-point play, but Elon was unable to capitalize further. Free throws down the stretch allowed Georgetown to push the lead back out to its final margin of nine.
Elon was led by Samson and Troutman, who each scored 18 points for the Phoenix. Along with Starks’ 21, Georgetown got 19 points from sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.
Elon falls to 5-6 with the loss, and Georgetown improves to 7-2.
Elon will not have to wait long before it is back on the court, hosting Central Pennsylvania College on Thursday night in Alumni Gym at 7p.m.