Elon University men’s basketball got their final tune-up before the regular season begins, hosting Randolph College at the Schar Center on Tuesday, Oct. 30. The Phoenix looked well-oiled in their 98-45 victory against the Wildcats.
Head coach Matt Matheny said it has been a battle for this team in the preseason because of “nagging injuries” that have created some missing pieces in the preseason, leading to the freshmen on the team getting prepared in a hurry.
“The freshmen got a lot of repetitions in practices,” Matheny said. “They’ve come along a little quicker than I thought they would, which is a really good thing. They are very talented. All four freshmen are ready to play based on talent.”
One of those missing pieces for the Phoenix was senior forward Tyler Seibring. Matheny said Seibring was held out because of a lingering discomfort in his shin but that the senior would be ready for the season opener against Manhattan.
A different player hampered by injury in the offseason was senior guard Dainan Swoope. Swoope sprained his ankle in December of last year, and it was again a nagging injury that stopped his progression over the offseason. He looked a bit timid on the court in the exhibition, moving gingerly at times, as if he was learning to trust his ankle again.
In the first half, Elon controlled play, which was evident when with 13 minutes to play in the first half, the Phoenix more than doubled the score at 20-8 over the Wildcats. Senior guard Sheldon Eberhardt was the Phoenix’s main playmaker, collecting 10 points in the game. Beyond that, he was a constant presence on defense, leading in rebounds as well. Running up behind him was freshman forward Chuck Hannah with four points and five rebounds.
Senior forward Karolis Kundrotas noted how the perfect game for the Phoenix starts with the defense, executing with confidence.
“Doing everything that we want to do and executing that perfectly, contesting shots, that’s a big emphasis for us this year, and offensively just running our stuff and getting guys open, unselfish play, next pass and flowing our offense.”
The Phoenix looked confident and relaxed in their game play while maintaining a fast pace that Randolph struggled to keep up with on defense. The Randolph players, frustrated in their lack of control in the game, resorted to costly fouls and avoidable mistakes, leading in easy free throw opportunities and turnovers.
Freshman forward Chuck Hannah was communicative during the whole game. The 6-foot-3-inch rookie could be heard barking orders, calling for help and organizing his squad on the floor all throughout the 5,100-seat Schar Center.
“Chuck Hannah is one of the best talkers I’ve ever coached. He’s a great talker. These guys are ready to play.” Matheny said.
Randolph eagerly tried to double-team the Elon offense, almost catching Elon off guard the first time they did so against Eberhardt, who managed to stay calm and deal with the situation. For the rest of the half, Randolph still looked disconnected and frazzled, which the Phoenix took advantage of, ending the half at 45-24, giving the Phoenix all the momentum going into the second half.
Elon didn’t let up in the second half either as they came out on a 15-4 run to start the period, cementing control of the game. Elon ballooned the lead to more than 40 points with just over seven minutes to go in the game when Wooten hit a layup to extend the lead, and Elon never looked back from there.
Eberhardt had to suffer the collapse of the team last year when the team lost eight of their last nine games to fall hopelessly out of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. Following that season, the team was picked to finish eighth in the conference this season, but Eberhardt thinks this team is capable of more.
“That was definitely one of the worst feelings as a basketball player, and that’s not something you never want to feel again," Eberhardt said. "I could see over the summer people were getting better individually, people are hungry, and I think we’re out here to prove people wrong."
The team gets its first chance to prove those people wrong on Oct. 6 when they travel north and play the Manhattan College Jaspers in the season opener before returning to Schar Center to host the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.