A familiar face was missing along the home sidelines as Elon University defeated University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 80-57, in Alumni Gym Feb. 1.
Elon coach Charlotte Smith missed the game after two deaths in her family this past week. Assistant Cristy McKinney, acting as the head coach, said that Smith had not been at practice all week following the team’s loss at Wofford College on Monday.
McKinney is also not sure when Smith will return, as she was attending a funeral Saturday Feb. 1 and one Sunday Feb. 2.
Freshman guard Lauren Brown said it wasn’t odd without Smith on the sidelines, but that she was missed. Nonetheless, Smith’s absence was on the team’s mind throughout the week and the game.
“I think this team was very, very motivated today to get a win for Coach Smith,” McKinney said. “She means so much to this program and cares so much. I loved our fight today. This team can be this way every game.”
The Phoenix used a 12-3 run in the opening minutes to take control, with transition baskets from sophomore guard Jessica Farmer and junior guard Zora Stephenson building a 16-7 lead. Elon went on an 8-0 run late in the half to stretch its lead to 20, but the Spartans responded with five consecutive points to force a Phoenix timeout.
Despite being outrebounded 26-18 and allowing UNCG to grab 18 offensive boards in the first half, Elon led, 40-24, at the break. The Phoenix had a height and size advantage on the Spartans, but UNCG senior forward Janae’ Stevenson hustled enough to grab nine boards on the offensive end and 10 total.
“We did address that at halftime,” McKinney said in regards to rebounding. “It was in rotation, so our posts were having to rotate to help. Rebounding hasn’t been our strength this year. We continue to work on it.”
UNCG switched to a zone defense to start the second half, allowing Stephenson to break free out on the wing. Stephenson scored 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting during a stretch of 5:36 in the second half, helping Elon take a 59-36 advantage with 12:26 to go.
“I wasn’t being tentative or hesitant,” Stephenson said. “When I had an open shot, I took it. My teammates were looking for me, especially when they started the second half in that zone.”
The Phoenix did not shoot a free throw until the 6:44 mark of the second half, but that didn’t slow them down. Junior forward Sam Coffer knocked down her second three-pointer of the game, and freshman guard Lenaira Ruffin also found the bottom of the net from long distance as part of a 10-0 run late in the game to put it away.
“I definitely feel like we play for each other,” Brown said. “It’s always a good feeling when you find your teammate open and make a nice pass and they finish. Teamwork makes the dream work.”
Stephenson led all scorers with 18 points, while Brown had 15. Farmer scored 12 points, 10 of which came in the first half, and Harris added 10 as the Phoenix avenged a loss at UNCG from Jan. 4.
Stevenson led the Spartans with 16 points and 14 rebounds – 10 of which were on the offensive end.
The win comes on the heels of heartbreaking road losses to Furman University and Wofford last weekend by a combined four points. Elon now has a week off to prepare for a home tilt against Georgia Southern University next Saturday, Feb. 8.
“I see signs every day in practice of how good this team can be,” Stephenson said. “That’s why it’s so discouraging when we don’t play up to our potential. Looking down at all the people we have on our team, we have so much talent. When it’s put together, it’s scary. It’s pretty awesome basketball out there.”