With the game tied with less than three minutes to go, the Elon University men’s basketball team turned to sophomore guard Dainan Swoope, who scored 10-straight points for the Phoenix to catapult Elon to a 71-62 win over the College of William & Mary Saturday night in Alumni Gym.
And, for head coach Matt Matheny, the team’s response to a 22-point first half — the lowest scoring half Elon has had this season — was the biggest takeaway from the night.
“For our guys to go through what was a jagged, rough first half and to come out and start the second half the way that they did, and then to defend for 40 minutes against what I think is a very good offensive team, makes me as a coach proud of how hard they’re working and how well we played tonight,” Matheny said. “We’re happy to get this victory.”
With the game tied at 58, Swoope drove and made a layup through contact, flexing both arms before finishing the three-point play with a free throw. William & Mary made a layup the next time down to cut it to one, but Swoope nailed a 3-pointer after junior guard Dmitri Thompson dove to save a turnover, passing to Swoope at the left wing while sitting on the floor.
“The ball was everywhere, and watching Meech dive to the ground, I was saying his name,” Swoope said of the play. “He just told me in the locker room that he heard me yell his name and he threw it to me and knew I was putting it up. It was a great effort by him — he set the whole thing up. He did have to go get it, but he’s strong. I believe in him.”
Matheny felt Thompson provided a huge boost to Elon’s efforts in the second half, starting off the half with a dunk and ending it with a block that led to free throws for Swoope down the stretch.
“That first play was such a relief because the first half was so rough,” Matheny said. “Not only did he get to the rim, but he was able to dunk it. I think that gave us a great lift. He can do so many things for our team, and we have focused with him on the little things.
“When you see him dive on the floor and get a loose ball with two hands, he got another loose ball on the other end, and he had a nice block, which was a solid, move-your-feet, position-yourself-and-jump-at-the-right-time block. That’s such a little thing, but it’s such a big thing. He was very big and he did it in a subtle way of doing the little things.”
Swoope finished the night with a game-high 20 points thanks, in part, to making 10-of-12 free throws. Sophomore forward Tyler Seibring added 19 points, six rebounds, three assists and three blocks, a performance that is becoming an expectation for Swoope.
“He’s special. It’s a lot of fun playing alongside him,” Swoope said of Seibring. “He can do a lot of things — he can score inside, outside, he can defend. He does it all for us. He’s a very key player for us.”
When asked about Swoope’s blitzing finish, Seibring said, “I think it was very impressive. I think we all took notice as it was going on. He didn’t push anything. He took the shot. He made consistent plays that were never out of place. He played to his strengths and he made them. We weren’t surprised. They were great.”
For both Matheny and for Seibring, the ability to pull out a victory in a game where the team struggled so mightily in the first half shows a maturation of this Elon team.
“It was great. I think that shows the continued evolution of what we’re doing,” Seibring said. “That we’re able to accomplish that sort of half and still get the win against a team like that. I think it shows how we’re improving, that even if it’s not flowing the way it was the other night, still coming out with a victory is very important for us. I think it’s a big step for what we’re trying to do.”
Matheny added, “In the past, we haven’t been able to win games like that. If we haven’t shot the ball well, we haven’t been able to get victories. To have a first half like we did and then to come back and pull out the win is like what Tyler said, it’s an evolution of our team, and we’re getting better.”
Elon has now rebounded from its 0-3 start in Colonial Athletic Association play to its current standing of 4-4, and 12-9 overall. It’s the fourth-straight home win for the Phoenix, who now travels to the Northeast for a two-game road trip next weekend. Swoope’s pleased with the team’s trajectory.
“After putting ourselves in that position — 0-3 — it’s good to be 4-4 now fighting back trying to climb up the standings as soon as we can, game by game,” Swoope said.