WILMINGTON — There were turnovers, missed shots and missed assignments. There were errant passes, failed box-outs and sloppy ball control. There was a stifling pressure defense, a disadvantage in the post and a flattening start from which recovering was never quite in reach.
Those ingredients boiled into perhaps the Elon University men’s basketball team’s most phlegmatic performance to date, an 82-65 loss to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington at Trask Coliseum on Wednesday, Jan. 28, that felt much worse.
The Seahawks, sitting atop the Colonial Athletic Association with a 7-2 mark in league play, went on a sprint of a 13-0 run after Elon scored the game’s first points, putting the Phoenix to bed quicker than lightning could strike.
Elon freshman guard Elijah Bryant made a jumper from near the elbow six seconds into the game, but that ended up being the only lead of the night for the Phoenix.
“They hit us early,” Elon sophomore forward Christian Hairston. “They hit us in the face. We had a chance to respond, and obviously, we didn’t take those chances.”
UNCW’s press flustered Elon into bad decisions, including six turnovers in the first seven minutes, while setting the tone the Seahawks had in mind. Seven-foot, 275-pound redshirt sophomore C.J. Gettys manhandled the Phoenix post players, once while wide open underneath and drawing a foul and again on a dunk that put UNCW ahead 13-2 and quickly prompted an Elon timeout.
“We really got it up court, but what we didn’t do is finish it off,” Elon head coach Matt Matheny said. “We didn’t finish it at the end of the pressure. The way they used pressure gets you in an uncomfortable situation, gets you in an unusual situation. It wasn’t like they got steals in front of our pressure, we just didn’t capitalize in the back of their pressure.”
The lead grew as large as 26 in the first half, with the Seahawks up 47-23 at the break. By the 9:30 mark of the second half, UNCW led by 30 — the biggest deficit Elon has faced all season on a slate that included trips to Northwestern University, the University of Missouri and then-No. 2 Duke University.
Elon missed 12-of-13 shots during a stretch early in the first half, going nearly seven minutes without making a field goal, something the Phoenix had just six of in the opening 20 minutes.
Bryant led Elon with 17 points, while junior Tanner Samson had 14.
“Overall, just a terrible performance,” Elon freshman guard Dmitri Thompson said. “It’s a good thing we get to play them again.”
The Phoenix, which drops to 11-11 overall and 3-6 in the CAA, began the second half with a bucket in transition by senior guard Austin Hamilton and a Samson 3-pointer. But UNCW quickly broke a press when Cedrick Williams threw down a tomahawk dunk.
Elon came as close as 16 in the final frame when Samson hit a pair of 3-pointers to make it 57-41 with 13:21 to go. But UNCW responded with a 16-2 run to go up 30.
“I wish we would have played better when it started going south for us,” Matheny said. “I didn’t think we responded well. I’m disappointed in that.”
NOTES: ... Elon freshman Collin Luther was assessed a technical foul at the 12:01 mark of the second half, presumably for saying something he shouldn’t have. The Phoenix players were in a huddle waiting for a free throw at the time. … It’s the second-worst loss of the year for Elon, behind just an 18-point shortcoming against Hofstra University. … Both Hairston and Thompson mentioned looking forward to a rematch with UNCW. Those teams close the regular season at Alumni Gym on Feb. 28. … Matheny said they will “really scrutinize it. There will be an intensive film study, coaches and players.” … UNCW’s 82 points is tied for the most Elon has given up this year.