Matt Matheny had to backtrack for a moment when talking about his team’s perimeter defense.
“We didn’t do a good job on the ball to begin with,” the Elon University men’s basketball coach said. “So we were breaking down on the ball, breaking down with our help, and breaking down with our fire-out. That’s not a great combination.”
Elon’s defense showed some flaws, particularly when guarding the 3-pointer, in a 79-61 loss to Hofstra University on Saturday, Jan. 10 at Alumni Gym.
Hofstra sank 14-of-32 from long distance, nine of those makes coming in the second half. It’s the most 3-pointers Elon has allowed this season.
The Phoenix came into Thursday’s victory against the College of William & Mary as the second-best team in the Colonial Athletic Association at defending the 3-pointer, has now given up 12 and 14 in consecutive games.
Hofstra’s Ameen Tanksley and Brian Bernardi burned Elon from start to finish, each dialing in five times from 3-point land. Hofstra’s first four and seven of its first nine field goals in the second half were 3-pointers.
“We came off a shooter — we did that twice,” Matheny said. “We’re better than that. Making that mistake as well as not defending the drive very well, that adds up to 14 (3-pointers).”
Bernardi made each of the first three from beyond the arc in the second half to put Hofstra up 48-35. An Elon run spurred by freshman Elijah Bryant’s 3-pointer and culminating in a put-back by sophomore Christian Hairston and a floater by senior Ryan Winters at the 10:51 mark brought the Phoenix with seven, the closest it had been since the 5:33 mark of the first half.
But 3s by Tanksley and Bernardi put the Pride back up 18 and prompting an Elon timeout as things began to swirl in the wrong direction for the Phoenix.
“I don’t think we talked enough during the game,” Winters said. “That’s something we could’ve improved on, especially in transition, and it’s something that was a key during the game — matching up in transition. They do run to random spots, they’re not always going to be in a set spot every time. We need to talk it out.”
Elon itself couldn’t do much from 3-point to answer. The Phoenix made just 4-of-21 from long distance and 1-of-11 from there in the first half.
Bryant, Elon’s leading scorer and vital force in victories against William & Mary and Drexel, was held to seven points on 2-of-15 shooting. Junior Tanner Samson was 2-of-11 from the field and eight points.
Junior Tony Sabato led the Phoenix with 12 points, while Winters had 10.
The Phoenix hit a lull midway through the first half, which prompted some insane antics from Matheny along the bench that included ripping off his suit jacket, slapping the floor and yelling as loud as a bullhorn.
After a mid-range jumper by Elon senior Kevin Blake to take a 13-12 lead, Hofstra reeled off a 21-5 run that prompted Matheny to go off.
“I was displeased with the way our guys responded to Hofstra’s aggressive play,” Matheny said. “I was really disappointed in that, more than anything.”
Sabato acknowledged that Matheny is a “fiery guy.”
“We weren’t really locked in to play in the first half,” Sabato said. “I feel like (Matheny) was trying to give us something. He was trying to motivate us a little bit. We need to do a better job starting the game off.”
Hofstra took a 38-25 lead into halftime. Tanksley led the Pride with 25 points, while Bernardi had 17, Juan’ya Green had 14 and Dion Nesmith had 13 along with 10 rebounds.
Hofstra is the only team unbeaten in CAA play at 4-0 and has won its last five games.
“We have a pretty high confidence,” Green said. “But we always come into the game acting like we’re 0-0. We don’t want to be cocky. We’re a hot team right now, but we have to stay humble and work hard.”
NOTES: … Hofstra outrebounded Elon 49-37, the most lopsided deficit Elon has had this year in that category. … The Phoenix made just 7-of-17 shots at the free throw line, its worst performance at the charity stripe this season. … Elon falls to 10-7 overall and 2-2 in the CAA. The Phoenix hosts College of Charleston at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.