The Elon University Men’s basketball team defeated the University of North Carolina at Wilmington on Saturday, 74-55. The victory marks three straight for the Phoenix, including back-to-back home wins. It also gives Elon a win against three of the top four teams in the CAA this year, having defeated Northeastern University and the College of William and Mary previously.
“The seniors, this night was for them,” said junior forward Christian Hairston. “They didn’t want to take any credit, they wanted to give it all back to the team.”
The Phoenix started strong on offense, led by junior guard Tanner Samson, who had nine points in the first half. Elon controlled the game defensively before halftime- UNCW’s 22 points in the first half tied for the fewest amount allowed in a half by the team all season, with the other coming against the Towson University Tigers on Jan. 22.
After leading at halftime 37-22, the Phoenix showed no signs of slowing down. UNCW shot just 34 percent in the second half, making only 12 baskets total. The Seahawks also made no shots from beyond the arc in the contest, going 0-14. Elon led by as many as 23 in the second half, despite making only seven field goals after halftime.
“What Ryan Winters has done to stay engaged after his injury, and then what Austin and Kevin have done, they’ve changed from good leaders to great, great leaders, and they helped us to get up off the matt,” said head coach Matt Matheny.
The 23-point victory is the largest of the year for the Phoenix against a Division I team this season. Samson finished with 19 points on the night, including three shots from beyond the arc. In his last home game at Elon, senior guard Austin Hamilton scored 14, and fellow senior guard Kevin Blake had eight.
The Phoenix outrebounded the Seahawks 41-39, grabbing a total of 26 boards on defense. The contest was physical, with the teams combining for 53 fouls. Four players fouled out for the Seahawks, and coach Kevin Keatts was issued a technical foul with 14:58 remaining in the second half.
“All of our hard work is starting to come together,” Hairston said. “Continuing to work hard, continuing to play hard, and eventually the chips will fall, and I think that’s what’s happening for us right now.”
The crowd of 1,876 is the largest during head coach Matt Matheny’s tenure at Elon. In attendance at the game were University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill football players Mitch Trubisky and Ryan Switzer, who was a high school classmate of Elon sophomore guard Luke Eddy.
The victory gives the Phoenix a final regular season record of 14-17, with a conference record of 6-12. UNCW, who would’ve clinched the CAA regular season title with a win, falls to 17-12 on the year with a 12-6 conference record, and enters the CAA tournament as the No. 2 seed. Elon goes into the tournament as the No. 8 seed, and will face the No. 6 seed Towson on Friday, Mar. 6 at 6 p.m.