The Elon University men’s basketball team continued an undesirable trend Saturday night, losing by four points in a close Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) game — this time, 66-62 to the College of Charleston.
“We’ve had so many close games,” Matheny said, with the tone of his voice emphasizing his frustration. “We’ve had some close game victories, and we’ve had far too many close game losses.”
After trailing by 13 with 11:23 left and by seven with 1:22 left, Elon got a five-point possession, thanks to freshman guard Steven Santa Ana making a layup and drawing a foul. Santa Ana missed the free throw, but Elon corralled the rebound, and freshman forward Tyler Seibring nailed a corner 3-pointer to cut the lead to two.
Cougars missed two back-ends of one-and-one trips to the free throw line in the final minute, giving Elon the the ball with 23 seconds left and a chance to tie the game with a 2-pointer, or take the lead with a 3-pointer.
Junior guard Like Eddy drove at the hoop and threw up a wild shot, missing everything. College of Charleston sophomore forward Evan Bailey grabbed the ball with seven seconds left, drew a foul and hit both free throws.
“We wanted to attack and get a good look at the rim,” Seibring said. “We trust Luke attacking to make a play for us. It just didn’t turn out this time.”
Elon started the game hot from the field, shooting 6-8 and leading by seven less than eight minutes in. But the Cougar defense — which ranked 12th in the nation in points allowed per game, at 61.6 — locked down the Phoenix from there, as Elon sputtered to 12 points in 12 minutes.
“I give the players credit — they come hard and work everyday,” said Cougar head coach Earl Grant. “They all like to play defense, so they buy into that. We talk about how that’s who we’re going to be — we’re going to defend and rebound. If we score 65-plus points, we’ll have a chance.”
The Cougars pounced on Elon on the other end, shooting 10-18 in the last 12 minutes of the half and doubling up Elon in points, with 24 in the stretch to take the lead at half.
“We got to focus on hitting singles,” Santa Ana said. “We just got to play our game. Trust the system, trust that our offensive motion will get us shots, and not just try to force it by ourselves. And also, we got to do a better job of screening for each other and getting each other open looks.”
Santa Ana set a career-high in scoring, finished with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting and 4-of-5 from deep. Seibring added 17 points, missing just one shot on the night as he finished 7-of-8 and 3-of-3 from behind the 3-point line.
Three key contributors all finished the night scoreless for Elon. Senior guard Tanner Samson missed all seven shots he took — all from deep — and junior guard/forward Christian Hairston and freshman guard Dainan Swoope were not heard from offensively.
The loss all but assures Elon will not be able to reach the sixth seed or higher in the CAA, as Elon now trails the College of Charleston by three games with four games left in the regular season. If the standings hold, Elon will have to play in the first round game of the CAA Tournament, which will be Friday, March 4.
The Phoenix travels north next weekend, with its second two-city road trip in-conference. Elon plays at Drexel University Friday and Towson University Sunday.