NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Elon University men’s basketball team fell apart at the worst time, watching its six-point lead with less than five minutes left turn into a 71-66 loss to the College of William & Mary Saturday afternoon in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) quarterfinals.
“About the same time, our offense faltered and we allowed them to get down to the rim for some easier buckets,” said head coach Matt Matheny. “Those two things happened at the same time, unfortunately, and we came up short and we’re disappointed.”
Elon led 60-54 with 4:54 left, but the Tribe scored 17 of the next 20 points to take the game and advance to the CAA semifinals. Sophomore forward Tyler Seibring felt that Elon’s offense got out of rhythm late.
“[The problem was] our offensive flow,” Seibring said. “We weren’t moving and cutting and screening the way we needed to, the way we have when we’ve been successful offensively during the regular season.”
Seibring finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Redshirt junior forward Brian Dawkins led the team 19 points and nine rebounds, but he felt Elon couldn’t find the way to keep its mind focused on separating offense and defense.
“Defensively, we stopped getting stops down the stretch and I think that was the biggest thing,” Dawkins said. “What kind of hurt us in the end is that we let our offense affect our defense.”
The Tribe held a one-point lead with 40 seconds left when sophomore guard Dainan Swoope poked the ball out of William & Mary senior guard Daniel Dixon’s hand. But redshirt junior Jack Whitman grabbed the loose ball and gave it to senior guard Omar Prewitt, who drilled a 3-pointer to give the Tribe a four-point lead with 33 seconds left.
For William & Mary head coach Tony Shaver, the play reminded him of how Elon beat William & Mary Jan. 21, when sophomore guard Dmitri Thompson fell on a loose ball and passed it to Swoope for a game-winning 3-pointer.
“After the game, we talked about it as a staff,” Shaver said. “Down there, they got the 50-50 ball and won, and we got the 50-50 ball here. Credit Jack Whitman for that. These guys made the play, but Jack was huge.”
Matheny added, “It’s a big play. In close games, loose balls have a tendency to determine the outcome. At our place, Dmitri had an incredible loose ball and we hit a big shot. And today, that was a big play. It felt like we had a great steal almost, Couldn’t quite come up with it.”
Elon stuck to its long-range guns early but kept finding blanks, making just 1-of-12 3-pointers in the first eight minutes. William & Mary surged to a 12-point lead midway through the half, which Matheny called “a haymaker.”
But then Elon caught fire from deep, making four in a row at one point to snatch the lead, taking a 33-30 lead into halftime. Matheny commended his team’s response to the early deficit.
“It could’ve gotten away from us early,” Matheny said. “Our guys got off the mat like they have all year and fought back. I thought we really defended well in the first half and the first 12 or 13 minutes of the second half.”
The loss likely ends Elon’s season at 18-14. Dawkins felt that Elon’s success this season and the lead it had in this game makes it sting a little worse.
“It’s disaapointing for our seniors, for the guys that have worked so hard for the last four years to put themselves into position to hopefully go on a run,” Dawkins said. “I think it’s even more disappointing knowing that we were right there with our team. We felt we had a chance to win this game and we felt could’ve potentially beaten whoever we had to play going forward and potentially could’ve made a run to play for a championship. So it’s very disappointing.”
But Dawkins and Matheny both took a look ahead, with Dawkins adding, “It’s something the guys that are coming back have to learn from. We have to remember and keep that in the back of our heads … for next time.”
Matheny concluded, “We’re starting to earn a little bit of respect, but we’ve got a long way to go.”