With a few minutes to wind down and finally control his heart beat, Elon University head men’s basketball coach Matt Matheny couldn’t stop his quick laugh when recalling the final play of the Phoenix’s game Saturday night.
Elon up by one, four seconds left, and the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) leaders University of North Carolina at Wilmington got the ball to Preseason CAA Player of the Year redshirt senior guard Chris Flemmings on the right wing.
And, off of a defensive switch, who did Elon have on the explosive 6-foot-5, 185-pound NBA prospect? Redshirt junior center Brian Dawkins.
“Just the way you draw it up,” Matheny said.
But Dawkins stayed stride-for-stride with Flemmings, and when junior guard Dmitri Thompson poked the ball loose, it was Dawkins who picked up the loose ball, capping off his banner day with a steal and a spike as the buzzer sounded for Elon’s 77-76 win over UNCW.
“A lot of emotion,” Dawkins said of the spike. “I was glad that the game was over and we got the win. They had a lot of chances at the end to score, so I think that was just an overwhelming feeling. It was the only way I felt I could release all that.”
The steal sealed Dawkins’ phenomenal stat line for the game, where he shot 9-of-15 from the field, including three 3-pointers, and 3-of-5 from the free throw line for a game-high 24 points. He also grabbed six rebounds, with Seahawk head coach Kevin Keatts calling him “the difference in the game.”
“He’s a good player, and what’s good about him is that, anytime you get a guy who can score inside-out, it’s tough on you,” Keatts said. “Anytime he sets a screen and you’re helping on screens, his ability to float to the perimeter and make threes is tough on you. And then I thought we did a good job trying to defend him, taking away his left shoulder, but he was able to get his left shoulder and made some shots. He had a big night, and I would say he’s one of the biggest reasons they won the game.”
Dawkins has put up big numbers in Elon’s past three Saturday games, dropping 22 points at Hofstra University Jan. 28 and setting a career-high with 29 points at the College of Charleston Feb. 4. With his history of injury trouble, including missing all of the 2014-15 year because of a knee injury, Matheny is in awe of his ability to do it on the second leg of the CAA’s Thursday-Saturday schedule.
“He has battled through the injuries and conditioning is something he’s been battling with because he’s been so hurt, he couldn’t condition,” Matheny said. “You look at the last three Saturday games for him — at Hofstra, big number, at Charleston, big number, and then today — it’s hard to turn around Thursday-Saturday. For him to do it not only once, but three straight Saturdays in a row is incredible.”
Dawkins added, "Being healthy in the spring time and the summer has been a big help. Last year, I wasn't really playing until right before the year, so I didn't have that much time to get in game-shape. Being able to work out with everyone in the spring, and go through the spring and summer workouts, has helped."
And, with the last two Saturdays coming against the top two teams in the CAA, the Jacksonville, Florida native may be earning himself a new nickname: Big Game Brian Dawkins.
“I would definitely say that sounds fitting,” sophomore forward Tyler Seibring said. “It’s fun to watch him play. [He’s] someone who’s worked really hard and had some struggles that were out of his hands. To see him succeed like this is great. He’s a great guy, a great teammate, and doing things on both ends that we need him to keep doing. It’s crazy to watch.”
And, with two weekends to go, Dawkins’ growth in conference play has been in-step with the team’s growth. Going forward, he feels the rest of the CAA now knows what they’ll have to deal with in Elon.
“We know what we’re made of, throughout the whole year, throughout practice and the different positions we’ve been in,” Dawkins said. “How we’ve grown as a team to be able to be down in a game, come back in the second half, play well, and be able to get a defensive stop at the end to win it. I think everything that we’ve done shows us what we’re made of.”