HARRISONBURG, Va. — Even the one play where James Madison University didn’t play zone defense, the Elon University men’s basketball team still couldn’t execute.
Down 10 with less than five minutes to go and seemingly crumpled up in the zone, Elon scratched its way through for a chance to tie in the waning seconds.
But senior guard Austin Hamilton’s 3-point attempt from the right wing missed everything, handing the Phoenix a 75-72 defeat to the Dukes on Saturday, Jan. 17 at the JMU Convocation Center.
James Madison, which had played zone the entire game, switched to a man defense for solely that play. And James Madison players acknowledged after that they had their eyes on Samson.
And the Dukes kept Samson tied up, and second option Elijah Bryant was on the far side. So Hamilton squared up, but his shot air balled moments before the buzzer sounded.
“They defended it pretty well,” Hamilton said, “but we still got a pretty good look.”
Elon coach Matt Matheny said he was OK with the shot, too.
“The play we ran can work against zone or man,” he said. “I thought we executed it pretty well. There might’ve been a sliver of an opportunity to pass, but he got his feet set and took a look. That’s a shot he can make.”
Elon trailed by as much as 11 and went down 69-59 with 5:17 to play after a turnover by freshman guard Elijah Bryant led to James Madison’s Jackson Kent going coast-to-coast for an easy layup, after which Matheny called a timeout.
The Dukes made just one field goal the rest of the game. Two free throws from senior forward Ryan Winters cut the deficit to three with a little more than a minute left.
Out of a timeout, Elon trapped the Dukes in the backcourt, and Samson pickpocketed a James Madison player and dished it to senior guard Kevin Blake, who laid it in to bring Elon within 71-70, the closest it had been since the 5:20 mark of the first half.
After Yohanny Dalembert’s basket increased James Madison’s lead to 73-70, Kent picked off a Hamilton pass and Ron Curry made two free throws with 27.4 seconds left for a 5-point lead.
Hamilton drove in to make it 75-72 with 14.8 seconds left, and then Elon called a timeout. James Madison broke the press in the backcourt, but Elon guard Dmitri Thompson grabbed the ball from Kent on the other side, which gave the Phoenix its last chance.
“I thought they punched us pretty good in the second half,” Matheny said. “We fought back and had a shot to tie it. It’s something we can build on. We were ready to reap the benefits of a victory, and we fell short.”
Samson scored 18 points after going scoreless in a loss on Wednesday to College of Charleston. Hamilton had 11 points, and Blake had 10.
But the Phoenix had its challenges, mainly finishing open looks in the mid-range game. Winters and junior center Tony Sabato had the top of the key to themselves nearly every possession, but combined for just nine points.
“They run that zone pretty well,” Samson said. “We struggled at times, but we had some other good plays against it. We figured it out as we went along.”
James Madison reeled off an 8-2 run to start the second half to go up 43-34.
Matheny was issued his first technical foul of the year with 11:08 to go after Blake was mugged as he drove through the lane, but didn’t draw a foul. Kent hit both free throws to put the Dukes up 54-43, their largest lead of the game.
The Dukes shot 30 free throws on the night, 24 of them in the second half, but made just 19 of them. Dalembert had 16 points, while Kent poured in 15 and Curry had 10.
NOTES: … The Phoenix falls to 10-9 overall and 2-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association. … Elon turned the ball over nine times in the first half, including a stretch of 1:15 early on where the Phoenix coughed it up three times. Elon finished with 14 turnovers. … It’s the third straight loss for Elon, coming after home defeats to Hofstra University and College of Charleston. … Bryant sat for a period of 5:01 in the second half after some bad ball-handling led to a turnover. He had nine points on 1-of-7 shooting. … The Phoenix will host Towson University at 7 p.m. on Thursday.