As Christian Hairston rattled off a touching sentiment, Austin Hamilton was to his left with a smirk on his face.
“That was cute,” said Hamilton, the center of attention after his career-high 31 points lifted the Elon University men’s basketball team over the University of Delaware 94-82.
It was a different aura for the senior guard who’s been saddled with injuries and hidden in the shadow of last year’s senior class that’s widely considered one of the best in Elon history.
So, like he said, he would have to lie to say he wasn’t basking in the moment.
“It absolutely felt good,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been putting in some work after practice, before practice. It’s humbling to see it’s paid off.”
Hamilton, a product of Herndon, Virginia, was heralded as a freshman when he made 19 starts and registered double figures 13 times, including a previous career high of 20 points against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He even hit a game-winning 3-pointer to beat the Naval Academy on Dec. 3, 2011.
But his sophomore season was cut short by a knee injury in early January.
He started 21 games a year ago, but averaged just 6.2 points per game, the lowest season tally of his career.
So when he was raining 3s in the midst of a second-half sprint by Elon to pull away from Delaware, it was a welcome and heartening sight.
“Austin did what I know he can do,” Hairston said. “Austin is one of the leaders of our team. We all have full confidence in him. Every shot Austin takes, I have my hands up because I know it’s good.”
For an Elon team that prides itself on its youthful talent, Hamilton’s performance was something different, but encouraging. Hamilton’s confidence and experience shined through when the Phoenix needed it most.
With a four-game losing skid hanging over its shoulders and two dismal home offensive performances on its mind, Elon was able to put all that in the rearview mirror with the help of Hamilton.
His driving layup tied things up at 55-55 with 13:53 to play and sparked an 18-6 Elon run. He hit two straight 3-pointers, then provided a scoop and a 3-pointer to put Elon ahead 71-61 and force a Delaware timeout.
The names Stephen Curry and Jack Isenbarger circulated in comparison.
“I love Austin Hamilton,” Elon head coach Matt Matheny said. “He’s tough, resilient. He’s had some adversity in his career here with injuries and being in and out of the lineup. He’s overcome it. It’s really deserved for Austin to have a night like this.”
It’ll be difficult to replicate what he did on Saturday, but Hamilton proved he’s capable of filling the role of a big-time scorer. That ability, as well as his leadership will be vital the rest of the year for Elon.
It’s only fitting that the senior point guard was the one to pull Elon from the pits of a four-game losing streak and an offensive funk.