BALTIMORE — The Elon University men’s basketball team got off to a fast start in its inaugural tournament game in the CAA.
But it came down to what it did in the end.
After hitting a surge of 3-pointers throughout the game, the Phoenix held on to oust the Towson University Tigers, a team the Phoenix hadn’t beaten in two prior tries this season, 74-69 in overtime of a Colonial Athletic Association Tournament opening round game on Friday, March 6 at Royal Farms Arena.
“Towson is tough and they fought us until the end,” Elon head coach Matt Matheny said. “I’m proud of the way our guys have gotten off the mat after a tough regular season. They are fighting throughout the game now and I’m really proud of these guys.”
With less than a minute left in the game, the Phoenix held a three-point lead over the Tigers before four free throws by Towson tied the game at 62 with 19 seconds left.
Austin Hamilton had a chance to win the game for Elon just before the end of regulation, missing an open jumper as the buzzer went off.
“Next play,” Hamilton said from what he thought after missing the shot. “It didn’t go in but that’s just the way the ball falls sometimes. Don’t dwell on it and move on to the next play and that’s what we did.”
Just as it started the game, the Phoenix started hot in extra time with Tanner Samson scoring five points in the first two minutes from a 3-pointer followed by another from Austin Hamilton to give Elon a 70-64 lead.
A dunk by Kevin Blake with 17 seconds left sealed the win for the Phoenix as it went on to make its ensuing free throws from intentional fouls.
The Phoenix fired 3-pointers from five different players on its roster, starting with senior guard Kevin Blake, who hit the first basket of the game.
CAA Freshman of the Year Elijah Bryant led Elon in scoring with 21 points off of four 3-pointers while senior guard Austin Hamilton and junior guard Tanner Samson scored 12 points apiece — both hitting two 3-pointers.
Freshman forward Collin Luther tallied a season-high 11 points while being perfect from the field, the 3-point line and the free throw line.
“We want to take shots that our guys can make,” Matheny said. “We did run the shot clock down a few times and had to hoist a few 3s. Those guys get extra shots, and they're rewarded with a good field goal percentage from 3. But the key was taking the right shots.”
Towson earned many of its points off second-chance opportunities under the rim. The Tigers scored 19 points from offensive rebounds while scoring 40 in the paint.
The Phoenix improved in the second half, as it picked up six more offensive rebounds than it did in the first.
“We knew they were going to play hard,” Hamilton said. “We knew they were going to attack the offensive glass so felt that if we could try to contain them off the glass, we would have a better chance at winning.”
At the start of the second half, both teams traded field goals. By the 11-minute mark, six lead changes had taken place in the second half alone.
“This was a great game,” Matheny said. “I feel good about it because we were fortunate enough to get the victory but it was back-and-forth. This was a March game, this was March Madness.”