As the losses pile up, Elon University men’s basketball coach Matt Matheny decided to look to the future.
Last Saturday, the Phoenix lost for the 10th time in its last 11 games, an 86-75 shortcoming to hot-shooting James Madison University. So Matheny delivered the following message:
“There are bright days ahead with no promises of when they’re coming,” he said. “I can’t tell you when the days are coming. But I can tell you that if we stick together, and that we try to get better every chance we can, they’ll get here sooner rather than later.”
Matheny likes to ignore the negatives and focus on positives, which is fine. It’s what a lot of coaches do. But by saying this, he’s at least acknowledging that times are now trying.
In the midst of this losing stretch that has hit Elon during its inaugural venture into the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), the Phoenix has been tripped up by injuries to senior forward Ryan Winters (back), senior guard Kevin Blake (knee) and sophomore guard Luke Eddy, who tore his ACL in December and will miss the rest of the season.
The team is depleted, and there aren’t many options when Matheny looks to the bench. But he knows that’s no excuse.
Prior to the James Madison game, senior guard and captain Austin Hamilton emphasized to the team that this isn’t something to get used to.
“I know everyone that came into this program is a winner,” Hamilton said in the locker room. “Keep that in mind. Obviously, we’re going through a tough stretch right now. None of us on this team is a loser. I just try to pound that in their heads to keep their spirits up.”
The James Madison loss was particularly frustrating considering Elon showed a great deal of improvement from when the Phoenix lost to the Dukes in mid-January. Elon attacked the zone much better than it did then, shooting 42.9 percent and committing just six turnovers while tallying six 19 assists — the best assists-to-turnover ratio the Phoenix has turned in all year.
But the Dukes caught fire, shooting an incomprehensible 60.9 percent from the field, including a scorching hot 77.9 percent (14-for-18) in the second half.
There will be losses like that as well as others more painful —such as 19-point road defeats to Northeastern University and the College of William & Mary. Through them all, Matheny has stayed upbeat. It’s necessary with a young team as it continues to develop.
So as he looks to the future, there’s no reason not to believe the young players will mature, improvements will come to fruition and, at some point, those losses will turn into victories.