It has been a long season for the Elon University men’s basketball team.
After 25 games, the Phoenix has a record of 11-14 and currently sits in the middle of a four-game losing streak. In its first full season as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, Elon has had its fair share of ups and downs.
Early on, unfamiliar competition loomed, earning the Phoenix a projected last-place finish in preseason conference standings. Head coach Matt Matheny was faced with the burden of replacing four 1,000-point scorers from the 2013-2014 season while also having to slowly work in incoming freshmen to the current roster.
Elon showed signs early in the season that it could compete at a high level.
After an impressive month in December when the Phoenix went 5-2, including close games against the University of Missouri and Duke University, Elon has swayed off course.
The Phoenix has found wins hard to come by in the last three weeks. Elon has lost eight of its last nine games, all against CAA competition, by an average of 11.1 points.
Despite the losses this season, Matheny remains optimistic about his team.
“I enjoy coaching this team,” Matheny said after Elon’s 67-63 loss to Drexel University on Feb. 5. “We have to keep our heads up and keep fighting.”
Injuries have played a factor in how Matheny has had to shuffle the starting lineup. During the season, the Phoenix lost sophomore guard Luke Eddy to an ACL tear and senior forward Ryan Winters to a back injury. Eddy was leading the team in scoring at the time of his injury and was replaced by freshman guard Elijah Bryant.
“We are climbing a pretty steep mountain,” Matheny said. “We’ve seen some beautiful views, but we have a lot of climbing to do.”
Partially because of the injuries, Matheny employs a four-guard starting lineup in the middle of conference play. With this change came size disadvantages for an already small Elon team.
Instead, junior guard Tanner Samson believes having a four-guard starting lineup can act as an advantage against their opposition.
“It can create problems for other teams,” Samson said. “We do well at boxing out, I think it works well for us.” Defense is another problem that has faced the team. Elon has given up an average of 70.1 points per game throughout this season and has become accustomed to starting games slow. In the first half of games this year Elon, has scored 787 points, almost 200 points less than it did in the second half (978).
“The No. 1 thing we need to improve on is defense,”said junior center Tony Sabato. “The past few games we’re giving up more than 50 percent [field-goal percentage] from the field, so we’re really trying to limit that down.”
As the season winds down the Phoenix has little time to gain momentum heading into the CAA tournament March 6-9. With six conference games remaining, the clock is ticking for Elon to make the necessary changes to close out its inaugural year in the CAA.
With adjustments forthcoming in its defensive game, the players need to take time for self-development. “Just worrying about ourselves more than anything is most important,” Samson said, “Focus on the defensive end and keep working at that and make little improvements. We should be all right.”