Tentative, stagnant and slow are all accurate words to describe the Elon University men’s basketball team’s offense.
There wasn’t any sense of connectivity, as the Phoenix couldn’t muster to deal with the length of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in a 73-60 loss on Sunday, Nov. 16 at Alumni Gym.
The stats speak one volume — 22-of-69 (31.9 percent) from the field and 3-of-20 (15 percent) from 3-point land. The confused looks spoke another — shots that looked like they might have intended to be passes, bland possessions that didn’t create any worthwhile chance.
“The most difficult thing was we didn’t get in a rhythm or flow offensively,” Elon coach Matt Matheny said. “I thought on Friday night (against Florida Atlantic University), we were able to get out in transition and that opened things up offensively. Tonight was just the opposite. Our motion offense is just not ready yet. That was exposed tonight.”
Charlotte and its size — 6-foot, 11-inch, 270-pound Mike Thorne, Jr. and 6-foot, 8-inch, 238-pound Willie Clayton — wreaked havoc underneath for Elon’s mismatched big men. That duo managed 23 rebounds alone.
They helped the 49ers pull down the first 11 rebounds of the game and outrebound Elon 45-39. The length added frustration to Elon’s already struggling offense.
“We had guys open, and we wouldn’t pass it,” Matheny said. “We would make a cut, but we were unsure. Our answer to that was, ‘I’ll take a ball screen, I’ll get a good look, and I’ll shoot it,’ instead of running the offense.”
Elon’s normally sharp-shooting junior guard Tanner Samson was limited to 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting, while freshman guard Elijah Bryant posted 14 points while making just 5-of-14 shots.
The Phoenix began the night by missing 14 of its first 17 attempts from the field. After cutting Charlotte’s lead to as few as three in the second half, Elon went another stretch where it missed 11 of 13.
“A little stagnant at times,” Samson said of the offense. “We were thinking a little too much. They’re all little things we need to improve on.”
Charlotte never trailed, and built its lead up to as many as 15 in the first half. Size mismatches were evident. Thorne found Pierria Henry for an alley-oop, Elon sophomore forward Christian Hairston was stuffed in transition by Cameron Blakley and Thorne, and 6-foot Elon sophomore guard Luke Eddy was brutally rejected by Blakney on a drive.
Blakney caught a hot wave late in the first half, draining three 3-pointers — his only points — in a stretch of 2:21 to put the 49ers up 32-17.
Elon opened the second half on an 8-2 run to trim the margin to 38-33. The Phoenix stole an inbounds pass which led to a corner jumper from freshman forward Jack Anton before Eddy blocked a shot of his own to bring the Phoenix within three.
But it would get no closer, as Elon’s offensive woes kicked in and Charlotte pulled away.
“We’re going to have to experience motion offense in a positive fashion in a game in order to get a feel for it,” Matheny said. “We were OK Friday night. Tonight, we were exposed. We might be able to fix it in practice, but it has to carry over in a game when we’re in a tough situation.”
NOTES: … Elon senior forward Ryan Winters registered his first double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. … Eddy, who dropped 13 points in the season opener and displayed some grit, didn’t score until the 2:59 mark when he made a free throw. That was his only point. … Junior center Tony Sabato, who scored a career-high 14 points on Friday, was held to two points and two rebounds in 16 minutes. … Former Wake Forest and South Carolina head coach Dave Odom was in attendance at Alumni Gym. His son, Ryan, is a Charlotte assistant. … Les Jones, Tim Nestor and Raymond Styons were the officials. They’re all mainstays at ACC games. … Elon won’t be home again until Dec. 2. The Phoenix travels to Northwestern on Saturday, Nov. 22 before heading to Cancun for the Cancun Challenge.