BALTIMORE — Getting off the mat and fighting until the very end.
It’s been the common theme all season for the Elon University men’s basketball team.
In its quarterfinal against the College of William & Mary on Saturday, the Phoenix was ousted from the CAA Tournament after being down by as much as 18 points early in the second half.
Elon played the No. 1 seed Tribe hard throughout the game. Every time William & Mary went on a run, the Phoenix immediately responded by closing the gap.
“As every second passes I think less and less about the disappointment of the end of the season,” Elon head coach Matt Matheny said. “I think more and more about how proud I am of the way our guys have fought all year.”
With 12:10 to play in the first half, Elon was down 20-10 after a layup from sophomore guard Omar Prewitt. The Phoenix followed up with a run that culminated with it trailing William & Mary by only three points four minutes later.
“If you look at the game today, we got knocked to the mat and got right back up,” Matheny said. “They had to knock us down several times to finish us off.”
The Phoenix held CAA Player of the Year Marcus Thornton scoreless for the first 12 minutes of the game. Thornton ended up leading the Tribe in scoring with 17 points with three of them coming off a buzzer beater just before halftime.
It was a shot that could have deflated an Elon team making a small run prior.
“It wasn’t deflating,” senior guard Austin Hamilton said. “We always talk about the next play because we wanted to start the second half and have some momentum coming in.”
After the game, Matheny reflected on the season and spoke highly of the leadership brought by the departing seniors.
In their last game, Austin Hamilton and Kevin Blake scored a combined 18 points for the Phoenix while Ryan Winters cheered from the bench, still nursing a back injury.
“They were tough and resilient and really fought for the last three weeks,” Matheny said. “A huge credit goes to Austin Hamilton, Kevin Blake and Ryan Winters who led us off the mat.”
Up until the final buzzer just before the game, Elon was still fighting for possession of the ball even as the game was out of reach.
Expecting to run out the clock and wait for the game to end, William & Mary was forced to fight for possession of the ball in the waning seconds as a swarm of Phoenix players swarmed to whoever had the ball.
“I was impressed with the way, even till the end, that the guys were still trying to steal the ball,” Matheny said. “It just made a statement to me about what our players this year wanted from this season.”
The Phoenix finishes the season with a record of 15-18 and having to say goodbye to three seniors who depart the school with 69 wins — the most in Elon’s Division I history for a senior class.
At the end of the game, the Phoenix greeted the Elon fans who made the trek to Baltimore. The team gave a salute to not only the fans, but to a season filled with adversity and change. But they did it together.
“I love playing with these guys,” Hamilton said after his final game in a Phoenix uniform. “They fight every second, they’re resilient and they’re fun to play with.”