The Elon University men’s basketball team secured its third home victory of the season on Thursday night, defeating the University of South Florida in overtime thriller, 79-78. In a string of fate, this marks the third consecutive year in which the Phoenix has played (and won) a home overtime game on November 30th.
Elon led South Florida for 33 of the game’s 45 minutes, but never by more than seven points. However, with just under three minutes remaining in overtime, the Phoenix fell behind after South Florida graduate student guard Stephan Jiggetts knocked down a deep three pointer to give his team a two-point lead. The game-winning shot came with 1:01 remaining in overtime, when Elon junior guard Dmitri Thompson hit a cold-blooded step-back jumper over the outstretched arm of a Bulls defender to give his team the one-point edge that it would hold until the final buzzer.
“[Tyler Seibring] passed it to me and said ‘just go,’ so I attacked,” Thompson said. “That’s the mindset I have to have going into every game – not just trying to score, but attacking.”
The Phoenix struggled early on from beyond the arc, sinking just three out of its 16 attempts from three-point land in the first half. This was not unchartered territory for the visiting Bulls, however, as they had held their opponents to an average of 27.8 percent from downtown over the first seven games of the season. Elon would go 5-14 from deep in the second half and finish the game 8-30.
Head coach Matt Matheny was quick to credit South Florida on its defensive performance throughout the game.
“They’re a good defensive team. They’re really long, and they really hustle around to defend shots,” he said. “The fact that we shot 26% from three is very unlike us, but it’s very like teams they play against, so you’ve got to give them credit for the way they made it tough for us to get perimeter shots off.”
Despite his team’s struggle from deep, Thompson came up with a team high twelve points in the first half, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the opening 20 minutes to give Elon a 36-34 lead heading into the break. Prior to Thursday night’s contest, Thompson was averaging 9.7 points to go along with 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists. He would finish the evening with a team-high and career-matching-high of 23 points, including the game-winning bucket and three triples. A night to remember.
After the game, junior forward Tyler Seibring was in high praise of Thompson, and attributed his impressive performance to all the hard work put in over the off-season.
“We’ve all seen him in [the gym] working and it’s really paying off,” he said. “He’s a hard working guy and he’s added an extra weapon to our offense.”
Matheny acknowledged his team’s grit and determination to get stops when it needs it the most, saying “I love the fact that we’ve grown from not getting a stop at Milwaukee – I think our players have a confidence about them, they had confidence at the end of regulation.”
This win sees Elon’s record improve to 5-3 on the season. The Phoenix will take the court again on Saturday night when it hosts Saint Peter’s University at 7pm. at Alumni Gym.