CHARLOTTE — After talking about ways the Elon University men’s basketball team could improve after Friday night’s emphatic 85-74 victory over the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, head coach Matt Matheny couldn’t just say that his team would take the victory.
“We’ll smile, we’ll smile,” he said.
And smile they did, especially sophomore guard Dmitri Thompson, whose smile was so bright after his 21-point, eight-rebound performance, it could be seen from space.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long, long time,” Thompson said. “Even the new guys … they knew that we kind of a rough year last year. And we’ve just worked hard and felt that. They felt they had to come out and attack, because we’re not slowing down for anyone.”
The Phoenix dominated the first half, shooting 19-of-33 from the field (57.6 percent), plus going 7-of-12 from 3-point range. Combine that with Charlotte’s 9-of-33 shooting in the half, and Elon led 53-26 at the break.
Right after the half, the Phoenix jumped on the 49ers, bursting out of the gates with a 10-0 run — Thompson alone had the last eight points in the run. At that point, Elon led by 37.
Junior guard Luke Eddy, who finished with eight assists on the night, enjoyed the way Elon started the game.
“It was really fun,” Eddy said. “We went out there in the first half and played the way we think we could play. Then they threw some junk at us — I don’t know if they knew what they were doing — but it worked.”
Charlotte tried to storm back with a 15-0 run, cutting the deficit to 22 points. Eventually, the 49ers would get the lead down to 10 points, but Elon held on for the victory.
While the final score may indicate that the game was close, the Phoenix held a double-digit lead for the last 31 minutes, 26 seconds of the contest.
Along with Thompson, three other players finished with double-digit points for Elon. Senior guard Tanner Samson had 12, and two freshmen each scored 11 — forward Tyler Seibring and guard Dainan Swoope. Swoope had a noticeable poise about him on the court all night, which he attributes to hitting his first shot.
“I felt comfortable from the beginning,” Swoope said. “I just came out and hit a shot, and that’s what really got my confidence going. I felt like, going from there, I could do some things pretty well.”
Sophomore forward Jack Anton added nine ponts, and junior guard/forward Christian Hairston supplied eight points and six rebounds.
Overall, 12 players entered the game for Elon, including nine playing double-digit minutes. Samson was the only player with more than 22 minutes, finishing with 32. Matheny attributed the big lead to allowing some experimentation, but stated he liked the distribution of playing time.
The Phoenix quickly turns around to travel up to Ann Arbor, Michigan to take on No. 25 University of Michigan on Monday. Thompson sees the victory as a big statement ahead of some games against top competition.
“These games coming up are huge for us,” Thompson said. “If we can put out wins against these teams, that would definitely be good for us.”