On the final play, with the Elon University men’s basketball team leading the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) leader University of North Carolina at Wilmington by one with 4.3 seconds left, Elon redshirt junior forward Brian Dawkins switched off a screen to guard Preseason CAA Player of the Year redshirt senior guard Chris Flemmings.
But as Flemmings drove, Dawkins stayed with him, and junior guard Dmitri Thompson poked the ball loose of Flemmings to bleed the clock out and secure Elon’s 77-76 win Saturday afternoon in Alumni Gym.
“You know what’s cool about it is you trust your players,” said head coach Matt Matheny. “I’d love to be such a good coach that I could schematically draw something up and get a stop. At the end of the day, it’s the players that are getting it done, and they got it done on the last play.”
The Seahawks got the ball off of a missed 3-pointer by sophomore forward Tyler Seibring with 24 seconds left and missed a shot with seven seconds left, but the ball went out of bounds off of an Elon player. Each team called a timeout, leading Seibring and Dawkins to plan a switch if Dawkins’ man — sophomore forward Devontae Cacok — went to set a screen to free Flemmings.
“We went through just about every scenario within those two timeouts,” Seibring said. “I was talking to about what we needed to do if there was a big-on-big screen, which ended up happening there. Having him switch out the way he did, move his feet, and be able to have guys in the gaps finish off that play was what got it done for us.”
Dawkins found it fitting that, in the middle of a back-and-forth game that saw 10 lead changes, 10 ties, and no team lead by more than eight, it took an Elon defensive stop to seal the deal.
“It just goes back to our gap defense,” Dawkins said. “Trust the guys behind you that they’re going to have your help, and trust that we can all make a team effort and make a team play, and that’s what happened.”
Seibring added, “That play was a picture of what we’re trying to do consistently. If we can keep that going, that would be awesome.”
UNCW graduate senior guard Ambrose Mosley hit a 3-pointer with 2:24 to go to give the Seahawks a 74-72 lead, but Elon sophomore guard Dainan Swoope responded with a three of his own right in Mosley’s eye, drilling the left wing triple with 1:59 left to give Elon a lead it would not yield. It’s the second straight home game Swoope has clinched with a three, quickly developing into Elon’s end-game killer.
“He’s a confident fella, and we have confidence in him,” Seibring said. “He took that shot, and I threw it to him, and I was hoping he was going to take it. That guy, he was there, but when they score, the way our offense works, we want to respond quickly. A confident shot like that, it’s going to go in in the friendly confines.”
Matheny, who was celebrating his 47th birthday Saturday, added, “That was a big shot. Boys he hits some big shots, doesn’t he? He’s so confident.”
Elon went into the locker room at halftime down eight and, in the words of the head coach, feeling discouraged at the deficit despite fighting hard. But it was the team’s comeback out of the half that impressed Matheny the most.
“We fought and fought and fought and fought and played hard and we were down eight,” Matheny said. “A lot of times, I walk in after meeting with our staff and our guys are talking to each other. This time, I walked in and it was kind of quiet, and we were a little discouraged, a little down.
“It was pretty good how our players responded, and they did. Believe me, my halftime speech was not very good. It was all technical garbage. Our players did it.”
And the win is Elon’s biggest win since joining the CAA and one of the best wins in Alumni Gym in the Division I era.
“It’s one of the biggest wins we’ve ever had since our staff has been here,” Matheny concurred. “I think it’s one of the best teams we’ve ever beaten.”
The Phoenix improves to 16-11 overall and 8-6 in the CAA, firmly planting itself in range to avoid playing on the first day of the conference tournament with two weeks to go. Elon heads on the road for the final time next weekend, playing at Towson University Thursday night and at Drexel University Saturday afternoon.