The Elon University women’s basketball team knew what the keys were to beat Appalachian State: be physical on the boards, and stop junior forward Maryah Sydnor, the Southern Conference’s leading scorer.
On Friday night, Jan. 17, the Phoenix was able to do both effectively, en route to a 66-54 win.
When asked what it was the Phoenix did to cruise to an early lead, freshman forward Jenifer Rhodes, who spent much time banging in the post with the Mountaineers, was quite candid with her response.
The Mountaineers pull down an average of 40 rebounds per game, good for a plus-5 rebounding margin. At minus-3.6, the Phoenix knew that rebounding was a point of emphasis coming into the game. Junior forward Sam Coffer, who leads the team in rebounding averaging 6.3 rebounds per game, pulled 12 off of the glass against the Mountaineers and added nine points, seven assists, two blocks and two steals to an impressive stat line.
Coffer and Rhodes went to work down low without one of their teammates, junior forward Shannen Cochraham, who missed the game with a foot injury. The injury bug has also bitten Elon’s guard play, as junior Zora Stephenson missed the game due to a concussion. When key players go down with injuries, it is up to others to step up and carry the load. Against the Mountaineers, sophomore guard Jessica Farmer was the one to do so.
Farmer started out the night hot from the field, scoring six of Elon’s first ten points. The Phoenix lead stretched to 11 at the 13:36 mark of the first half after a three-pointer by freshman guard Lauren Brown, giving Elon a 17-6 lead. The lead would stretch to as many as 20 at halftime, a 37-17 Elon advantage.
The lead was built by the struggles of Sydnor and the pesky defense of the Phoenix. Sydnor was averaging 20.2 points per game entering the contest, but was held to just two first half points on 1 of 6 shooting. As a team, the Mountaineers shot just 22 percent in the first half. Though Elon never trailed in the game and held a 20-point halftime lead, Elon head coach Charlotte Smith’s message to her team was to keep the pressure on.
“When we do have those leads, we can’t be complacent and rest on our laurels, we have to have a lot more focus and a lot more intensity,” she said. “You have to amp it up, amp it up.”
Smith spoke, and her players listened. They kept their feet on the gas pedal and held a 45-31 lead at the 9:53 mark of the second half. Sydnor started to get hot in the second half, and her jumper at the 5:02 mark trimmed the Elon lead to nine. But, the Phoenix was able to get the big shot when it needed one most, this time from another freshman, guard Lenaira Ruffin, who nailed two three-pointers in a 1:07 span to stretch the Elon lead back to 12, 59-47. In the end, Sydnor finished with 16 points, but her team trailed 66-54 as time expired.
Farmer finished with 19 points for Elon, a new career high. Senior guard Kelsey Harris, a mainstay in the Elon backcourt, added 10 points and eight rebounds, while Rhodes and Coffer each added eight points. Ruffin scored eight points off of the bench for the Phoenix, keyed by her two three-pointers when the team needed them most.
Ruffin, along with fellow freshman Rhodes and Brown, and sophomore Farmer, is evidence that Elon can be successful despite losing experienced players like Stephenson and Cochraham.
“It’s the players, the resiliency of the players,” Smith said. “We never focused on the (injuries). We feel like we have so much depth that anybody can step in and I feel like we won’t miss a beat. It makes you smile, because you’re thinking, ‘Man, the future is bright for this program.’”
Due to the injuries the Phoenix has endured, Coach Smith will do everything possible to keep her team fresh with just one day off before their next game, a Jan. 19 home matchup against Western Carolina University. With an afternoon tip scheduled for 2 p.m., the Phoenix will have only about 40 hours of rest before they are back on the floor playing a game.
“It’s a light practice for (Jan. 18),” Smith said. “(The players) need to get their rest and be rejuvenated for the next game.”
Elon improves to 7-10 on the season with the victory, and 3-3 in the Southern Conference.