Moments after yet another loss ended with an air ball at the buzzer, Elon University head men’s basketball coach Matt Matheny got emotional.
It was a bit atypical of the normal Matheny, who’s usually calm after a win or a loss. He’s been fired up a few times this year — note excessive arm flapping, floor slapping and even some table pounding during a victory against the College of William & Mary on Jan. 8 — but not like this.
You could feel the passion and the grit through each word. He wanted this one. He wanted this one so, so badly.
It didn’t come to fruition, as the Phoenix fell 53-51 to Towson University. Even though it was Elon’s fourth straight Colonial Athletic Association loss, Matheny made the point to show that he’s not discouraged.
“We shot 28 percent and had to chance to win this game. That’s incredible,” Matheny said with a twinkle of amazement in his eyes. “I want to win the game, but our kids are fighting their tails off. We gave ourselves a chance to win when we didn’t play well offensively. That’s incredible.”
Matheny said multiple times how much he loves coaching this particular group, and said “they’re fighting” a few times, too.
He was at his peak of emotion came when prompted about home losses to Towson and College of Charleston, two low-ranking CAA teams who only have league wins against Elon.
Matheny never spoke like that last year, despite being picked in the preseason to win the Southern Conference. With this group, he’s shown a different side of himself.
Watch him on the sideline during games. He’s known for waving his arms up and down, hoping to incite the crowd to get on its feet and make noise.
In addition to doing that frequently this year, he’s ripped his jacket off, bent down and slapped the floor and became redder in the face than Rudolph’s nose.
The Towson loss — Elon’s second to the 8-12 Tigers in the last 18 days — especially hit Matheny because of a few things. First, Elon put on a defensive clinic. Towson scored just 53 points, the fewest for a Phoenix opponent this season, and hit just one 3-pointer, another low for an opponent.
And because of that, Elon had a chance to win in the final minute despite shooting a season-worst 28.9 percent and scoring only 17 points in the first half, the fewest tally in a single half since January 2010.
But Elon stuck together and could’ve taken the lead on a drive to the basket by freshman guard Elijah Bryant with 31 seconds left (it clanked off the rim) and then win on a long 3-pointer by Bryant as the buzzer sounded (it fell way short).
The players know there’s something different about this group, too.
“I’m disappointed we lost, but I have a lot of faith in these guys,” senior guard Austin Hamilton said, “and I know they have a lot of faith in me. I know we’re going to pull through this.”
It’s still January, so perhaps it’s not the best time to criticize and worry about this team’s wellbeing and structure. But obviously, anytime you lose four straight, some adjustments have to be made.
Matheny knows that. And he’s working on it.
“I’m not discouraged,” Matheny said. “We know how difficult this deal is.”