ASHEVILLE, N.C. — With just under three minutes to play, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga guard Whitney Hartlage threw a pass downcourt in transition that was tipped by an Elon University defender.
That moment was just a microcosm of a frustrating day for Elon University, as the fifth-seeded -Phoenix fell to No. 1 Chattanooga 77-44 in the Southern Conference Semifinals.
“You now it’s one of those days when we go for the steal and the ball just bounces awkwardly right in their hands and they get a layup,” Elon coach Charlotte Smith said. “I’m like ‘oh my gosh.’ It just wasn’t our day today.”
Elon began the second half 1-of-21 from the field, including a stretch of 18 straight missed baskets. That, along with a slow start at the beginning of the game dug the Phoenix a hole far too big to dig out of.
“It took the wind out of our sails,” Smith said. “We weren’t only missing the outside shots, but the chippies inside as well. It makes you play a lot of defense.”
Leading 36-21 at halftime, Chattanooga quickly stretched that lead to 26 points early in the half and led by as much as 34 in the second half. Elon recovered from its lull to go on a 9-0 run late in the game, but it was far too late.
The Mocs outrebounded Elon, 48-31, and had 19 points off turnovers and 15 second chance points. SoCon Player of the Year Taylor Hall led with 18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
Chattanooga propelled itself to a 13-2 lead out of the gates, capitalizing on a slew of Elon turnovers. The early runs of the Mocs caused Smith to use three timeouts within the first 15 minutes of play.
“We try to come out with a lot of energy,” Hall said. “That’s something we can control, day in and day out.”
Smith, on the other hand, said she felt Elon didn’t take advantage of the factors it had influence on.
“It’s quite difficult when you’re not hitting shots and you lose on the board by 17 rebounds,” Smith said. “You have to be able to control the things you can control.”
It was a far contrast to the teams’ two other meetings this season. Both resulted in Chattanooga wins, but Elon led during the first half of both and hung tight until midway through the second half.
The Mocs, who have now won 24 consecutive games and are 20-0 in SoCon games, will face the winner of Davidson College and Western Carolina University at 5 p.m. Monday, March 9 for the SoCon championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Chattanooga will be well-rested, being able to sit many of its players late in the game against Elon.
“That’s the good thing about being so deep,” Hall said. “We can play 10 or 12 players and not miss a beat. Hopefully, that’ll show tomorrow.”
Elon bows out in the SoCon semifinals for the second consecutive year, ending its 11-year tenure in the league. Next year, the Phoenix will compete in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“The Southern Conference is an outstanding conference,” Smith said. “You can see that by the standings. Every night we had to be prepared to fight. You had to be mentally sharp and mentally focused.”