It’s not often you hear Elon women’s basketball head coach Charlotte Smith be so critical of her team’s defense. But after a disappointing 71-66 loss to Furman University in the Phoenix’s final home game of the season, Smith was unhappy with her team’s defensive effort.
“We just didn’t get stops,” Smith said. “We have to figure out a way to get stops.”
Senior guard Kelsey Harris was disappointed with her team’s lack of discipline on the defensive end and said that the Phoenix can’t expect to make noise in the Southern Conference tournament without playing well on both ends of the floor.
“We can score as many points as we want to, but if we can’t stop the other team from scoring there’s no point,” Harris said. “We need to buckle down and get those defensive stops. We have those mental lapses that we just can’t afford to have.”
The loss drops the Phoenix to 13-14 overall, 9-7 in conference play, while the Paladins improve to 16-11 overall, and 10-6 in the SoCon.
Elon’s offense was nothing special, shooting 38 percent from the field and 42 percent from behind the arc on just seven attempts, but it was serviceable. It was the Phoenix’s inability to get consistent stops on the defensive end that ultimately lost them the game.
The game went back and forth in the early going, with the Phoenix hanging around despite shooting 30 percent in the game’s opening minutes.
It was after Harris had knocked down two free throws to pull her team to within two with 13:06 remaining that the Paladins began creating some separation, going on a 9-2 run to take their largest lead of the game, 22-13, with 10:02 remaining.
The Phoenix began methodically cutting into the Paladins’ lead, pulling within three at 25-22, on a Harris drive and layup with 6:02 remaining and taking its first lead of the game with under a minute to go in the first half on freshman forward Jenifer Rhodes’ layup after a nifty move to the basket.
“I know the talent we have and what we’re capable of doing,” Smith said. “I’m always confident that we can make a comeback but hopefully we can get to where we’re not having to dig ourselves out of holes.”
It appeared as though the Phoenix had taken all the momentum away from the reeling Paladins, but the home team’s lead disappeared as soon as the two teams reemerged from the locker rooms.
Elon hung around, but could never overcome the Paladins’ patient offense and stingy defense, getting as close as three but never being able to get a key stop or a game-changing basket when it was needed.
Furman stretched its lead to 10 twice in the last 9:32 and made six free throws in the final minute-and-a-half to ice the game and hand the Phoenix a discouraging loss given the team’s impressive 10-3 record and six-game winning streak in Alumni Gym this season.
“I definitely didn’t imagine things would end this way on the last homestand,” Smith said. “But I’m definitely proud of what we’ve accomplished (here) throughout the season.”
The Phoenix was paced offensively by Harris and Rhodes, who each had 17 points. Junior guard Zora Stephenson chipped in nine, including two 3-pointers in the game’s final 2:40 when the Phoenix was scrambling to get back into the game. Freshman Lenaira Ruffin, who made just her third start of the year, added seven.
The loss comes prior to a road matchup with the conference’s best team, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which stands at 16-0 in conference play.
If the Phoenix can take whatever mojo it created at Alumni Gym and take it to Tennessee with them, Smith says they’ll be fine.
“We can’t focus on the fact that we’re on the road,” Smith said. “We just have to go in with the approach that it’s our house and we have to go take a win.”
For Harris, it was an especially disappointing loss given it was her last opportunity to play in front of the home fans as an Elon player. Still, she says the game didn’t spoil the collection of special memories that all flooded back into her mind on this night.
“I was just trying to take it all in today,” Harris said. “I had it all in my head, I didn’t want to verbalize it too much before the game. Just four years in Alumni Gym, all the memories coming back at once. It’s been great.”