With a wide-open look the result of a lightning-quick press break just a few seconds after James Madison University had tied the game, sophomore guard Dainan Swoope buried a 3-pointer that clinched the Elon University men’s basketball team fifth-straight win, a 67-61 defeat over the Dukes Thursday night in Alumni Gym.
After James Madison hit two free throws to tie the game at 59 with 2:08 left, Swoope drilled the 3-pointer seven seconds later, the exclamation point to his team-high 17 points on the night, including 14 in the second half. James Madison head coach Louis Rowe knew the shot was going in before Swoope let go of the ball.
“We’ve got to live with it,” Rowe said. “Swoope is tough. The dude’s tough, and I admire the way he plays. I knew, as soon as it went up the sideline to him, he was not missing that shot. He’s a tough kid. You want your guys to play aggressive, and your hope is that, throughout the course of the game, you build up enough to where that one mistake at the end of the game doesn’t cost you. But it is what it is.”
For Elon head coach Matt Matheny, the key to the Phoenix’s win was on the defensive end, as Elon held James Madison to 37.7 percent (20-of-53).
“I think our guys are doing a lot of little things that are adding up to helping us win games and the big things,” Matheny said. “I think defensively we’ve been pretty consistent at fighting to make it tough to score against us. I think our guys did that tonight in a way that was a little different in that we changed defenses quite a bit within our man. We didn’t change to zone, but we changed within our man the way we were defending different things. And I thought we rebounded pretty well.”
Elon struggled to score in the first half, shooting 9-of-26 from the field and 3-of-13 from deep. But the Phoenix got a big lift off the bench in the first half from senior guard Luke Eddy, who had all 10 of his points in the sluggish half. It was just his second double-digit scoring game of conference play.
“I thought he was really good in the first half,” Matheny said. “We have a lot of respect for how James Madison plays defense. They make it difficult to score and get good looks. We were having a tough time, and Luke made some big plays and some big shots. We have a lot of guys that have been able to step up and score for us in the past couple of weeks, and tonight it was Luke.”
Elon’s top two scorers, sophomore forward Tyler Seibring and sophomore guard Steven Santa Ana, were held scoreless in the first half, with Seibring only playing five minutes in the half because of early foul trouble. He finished the night with just seven points, but Matheny felt he played well.
“I thought he played pretty well, except that he got in foul trouble,” Matheny said. “I didn’t even think about [his offense]. Shots he can make didn’t go down, but he had two big blocks at the end. I thought he did some really good things, even though it wasn’t his best game overall.”
Swoope felt it was emblematic of the team’s depth of scoring options, saying, “We’re just a balanced team, I guess. He got in early foul trouble, which got him out of the game. I think everybody took that upon us that we had to do that for him and get him back in the game with a little bit of a lead and get him playing with confidence.”
Santa Ana recovered from the scoreless first half with a flurry out of the gates, scoring all 10 of his points in the first eight minutes of the second half.
The win pushes Elon up to 15-9 overall and 7-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association, moving the Phoenix into a tie for third place and two games behind first. It’s also the fifth-straight victory for Elon, it’s longest win streak in conference play since joining in 2014-15. Matheny’s felt the team has been playing with more toughness, even if he doesn’t see the standings.
“I don’t look at the standings, but I look at our guys and I think we’re getting better,” Matheny said. “I think we’re getting tougher, not only mentally tougher, but I think we’re getting tougher in the way we’re fighting through situations on the court. Tonight was another Colonial game where you’ve got to grind it out. Every night’s a fight.”
Elon travels to tied-for-first-place College of Charleston for a 7 p.m. game Saturday.