The seniors on Elon University men’s basketball team had to say goodbye this past Saturday.
One of the most successful senior classes in the school’s Division I tenure played their last game at home to a packed Alumni Gym Saturday, Feb. 28. It was an emotional night, capped off by a win against the University of North Carolina at Wilmington — one of the top teams in the Colonial Athletic Association.
With 53 seconds left in the game, senior guards Austin Hamilton and Kevin Blake left the court for the final time to a standing ovation from the crowd and a chant of “Thank you, seniors!” from the student section. That was directed to Ryan Winters, too, who was on the bench with a back injury.
“I was hoping I didn’t cry,” Hamilton said. “If I had looked at my mom, I would’ve probably started crying.”
The class of 2015 has amassed 68 regular season wins during their time at Elon, including a 21-12 record during the 2012-13 season. That season, they advanced to the SoCon Tournament semifinals, where they lost to College of Charleston. The year marked the Phoenix’s first post-season appearance in Division I play, as it was invited to the 2013 CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
A native of Herndon, Virginia, Hamilton made an immediate impact for the Phoenix as a true freshman during the 2011-12 season, averaging 9.2 points and 2.8 assists pergame in 25 appearances. This year, Hamilton has averaged 8.5 points, including a career day where he scored 31 against CAA opponent University of Delaware.
Hamilton’s career hasn’t always been easy. He suffered a season-ending knee injury his sophomore year in a game against Western Carolina University, but he has proved resilient, making the team’s current three-game winning streak heading into tournament play even sweeter.
“It’s a great feeling,” Hamilton said. “I’ve enjoyed my time playing here in Alumni Gym. It’s been something I’ve dreamed of. I’ve gone through my share of injuries, and to end on this note is very special.”
Blake, who hails from Toronto, has averaged 8.1 points a game and 3.4 rebounds per game in 30 starts for the team this year. Affectionately know as “Air Canada” by fans and teammates alike, Blake is known for his high-flying dunks.
Despite his relatively small size — he stands at 6 feet, 3 inches — Blake regularly challenges the biggest players on opposing teams. As he walked onto the court to the roar of the crowd on senior night, the announcer referred to him as one of the toughest players to ever don an Elon jersey.
“A lot of credit has to go to Austin and Kevin, and Ryan [Winters] being verbally a leader,” said head coach Matt Matheny. “What [they] are doing to lead this team, to keep us upbeat, to keep us focused, to keep us competitively tough, is a testament to them being great leaders.”
Ryan Winters has also had a big impact on the team, but in a different way. Winters, a forward who hails from Denver, has battled back injuries throughout the year, last seeing action Jan. 22 in Elon’s 53-51 loss to Towson.
It has forced Winters to take the role of an emotional leader off the court. For senior night, he came to court in dress clothes rather than his uniform. Before the injury, Winters was averaging 5.7 points a game and 4.8 rebounds per game, giving a Phoenix a force in the paint, both offensively and defensively.
With the 74-55 victory against the Seahawks, Elon moves into the CAA tournament on Friday, March 6 with three consecutive wins. They’re peaking at the right time, and the seniors have played a crucial role in the team’s last three games.
Hamilton and Blake have both been at the top of the Phoenix box scores against UNCW, Northeastern University and Delaware. Hamilton scored an average of 13 points in those three games while Blake scored 18 points against Delaware.
“I’ve been through a lot here,” Hamilton said. “It’s helped me to become who I am today, so there’s definitely a lot of emotions. I’m proud of this team and happy that we were able to get this win.”