As the clocked ticked below 30 seconds in overtime of the Elon University men’s basketball game Wednesday night, two Florida International University defenders nearly trapped sophomore guard Dainan Swoope mid-court.
In what was only six seconds but felt like an eternity, Swoope pivoted over and over, seemingly finding no way out. But with a little hop and a heave, Swoope found redshirt junior forward Brian Dawkins all alone near the basket.
Dawkins slammed it home and let out a roar, putting the final touch on an emotional 84-81 victory for the Phoenix, just a day after the death of President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley.
“What a special night to get a victory,” said head coach Matt Matheny. “It’s a very good win, and a special night, when we can pause and think about the impact that Dr. Danieley had and will continue to have on this campus. We feel fortunate to get the victory on a special night.”
Elon nearly won the game in regulation, but FIU senior guard Eric Nottage sent the game to overtime by draining a fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner as the buzzer sounded. Matheny was impressed with his team’s composure after seeing a win escape its grasp at the buzzer.
“There was an opportunity to get it in regulation, and you’ve got to give FIU credit for fighting back into the game and hitting a big shot,” Matheny said. “Then you’ve got to give our guys a big amount of credit for being able to come out and overtime ready to go. They turned the page and had the next-play mentality and gutted it out.”
Dawkins’ dunk gave him a team-high 17 points on the night, shooting 8-of-10 for the field. He admitted that this game had “a little bit extra on it” — Danieley was considered the basketball team’s biggest fan, and the crowd chanting “Dr. Danieley” at the under-eight media timeout in the second half drove that home.
“It’s a lot of emotions — it still hasn’t really hit me. Dr. Danieley’s been at every game since I’ve been here, and I know for most of the people that comes to the games, he’s been here for most of them, too,” Dawkins said. “I think it was a good thing. I think to honor him in that way and get the crowd into that, I think it helped us down the stretch. I think it was a pickup, a little boost that we should go out and play as hard as we can for Dr. Danieley and try and come out with the win.”
The game had multiple massive swings back and forth. After leading by as much as nine in the first half, Elon went more than four minutes without a point late in the first half. The Panthers took advantage, using a 12-0 run to take a 26-22 lead.
Elon recovered, ending the half on a 10-4 run to take a 30-4 lead into the break. That momentum carried over into the second half in a stretch Matheny called “beautiful,” as the Phoenix made eight of its first 10 shots to jump out to a 19-point lead, 53-34. But the Phoenix quickly switched from red-hot to ice-cold, going almost 7 minutes without a point and going 8:04 without a basket. FIU scored 17 straight points to cut the deficit down to two.
The wild swings leave Matheny looking at his defense to help the offense.
“I think you have to defend consistently, whether you’re playing well offensively or not,” Matheny said. “In years past — last year, specifically — we were a team reliant on shooting threes. If we weren’t making threes, we would have trouble winning close games. I think our defense is getting better — our defense is improving. If we can consistently play well defensively, it will help connect those stretches of good offensive play.”
Elon built the lead back up to nine with 3:25 left, but only scored three points in the final stretch, leaving the door just open enough for the Panthers to get Nottage a shot at the buzzer. When his shot dropped, Seibring admitted it was deflating but was impressed that the shot didn’t affect the team’s play.
“We’re working on next play mentality all of the time,” Seibring said. “We usually talk about that for little plays, but it’s even more important for the big plays like that. Compiling those next plays and keep fighting for the overtime, it shows the toughness we’re trying to build.”
Elon’s Nov. 30 win is its fifth in a row, and improves the Phoenix to 6-1 on the young season. Elon travels to perennial power Georgetown University for a 1:30 p.m. game Sunday.
But with Danieley’s death, the team was focused on paying tribute to him after the game, hugging members of Danieley’s family and placing towels on his seat. Seibring called it “powerful,” and Dawkins felt it was, “good for us to tribute him, to honor him in that way.”
Matheny said the tribute was the first time it hit him that Danieley was gone, but he was proud that the team did something positive for the community.
“In the locker room after the game, I just said, ‘Great job, great victory, and, to do it on a night like this, you put a quick smile on some faces that are sad right now.’ We’re glad we were able to do that,” Matheny said.