Freshman guard Elijah Bryant entered in to Thursday’s match up against the William and Mary University Tribe having been named Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week for the fourth time.
He played huge dividends for the Phoenix as it took home its first home CAA victory in a win over the Tribe by a final score of 85-79.
The freshman led the team in scoring with 25 total points, 19 of which came in the second half alone. Bryant was extremely efficient from three-point range as he shot 75 percent from beyond the arc and was nearly perfect at the free-throw line by shooting almost 90 percent.
On multiple occasions Bryant took the ball up the court himself and shot quick three-pointers that, at times, gave Elon the lead.
“I’m pushing the ball and looking for my teammates.” Bryant said. “If my defenders are not going to step up to me then I trust myself to shoot the shot. My teammates trust me too and that helps me a lot with my confidence.”
Bryant was among eight different Phoenix players who registered points in the final box score. Head coach Matt Matheny described the importance of the team’s depth at the conclusion of the game and highlighted his optimism for the benefits it has.
“I love our depth.” Matheny said. “This is the third game in a week that we’ve played and we’re playing ten guys. I think that matters in the grind of conference play and I hope that it’s a factor in the conference tournament.”
Junior guard Tanner Samson had another successful night from beyond the three-point line with 18 of his 20 points coming off long-range shots. Samson netted a long three-pointer with just less than 40 seconds remaining in the game that gave Elon a 78-75 lead that they would not relinquish.
At the end of the game, Bryant stated that he made a minor adjustment to change the play that set up Samson with the shot.
“I told Tanner to do a hand off because I knew the guy was going to bump into me.” Bryant said. “When he released the shot I knew it had a chance at going in.”
Coach Matheny was ecstatic at the conclusion of the game in regard to the trust and free will that his players maintain while on the court. On plays like Bryant’s adjustment, Matheny believes that the trust he gives his players pays off in tight decisions like Thursday’s game.
“I usually air on the side of giving the players too much freedom, right or wrong.” Matheny said. “There was a time where they looked at me wondering who to screen on a particular play and I said ‘You are free to do whatever you want’, -- its just freedom.”
Junior guard Terry Tarpey led William & Mary in scoring with 22 points. Tarpey’s performance was followed by CAA preseason player of the year, senior guard Marcus Thornton with 21 points of his own. The Phoenix held Thornton in check for almost the entirety of the beginning of the game with the senior not even registering a point until there was 1:30 left in the first half. With sophomore guard Luke Eddy out, Bryant and a few others were faced with the task of covering Thornton.
“We watched a lot of film on him.” Bryant said. “I watched him by myself and I stuck with finishing my defense, and Tony (Sabato) helped me out as well.”
Both teams exchanged leads throughout the game with Elon taking the largest lead of the game (10) with 2:58 remaining in the first half. William & Mary came out hot after halftime by going on a 7-0 run to retake the lead from the Phoenix. Elon slowly chipped away from there until Samson drained a three with under 40 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Elon has two home games coming up against Hofstra University (Jan. 10) and College of Charleston (Jan. 14) before traveling to Harrisonburg, VA for a match-up against James Madison University on Jan. 17.