Where did the season go? All of a sudden, there are only ten games left in the Elon University men’s basketball season and the Phoenix sits at 10-11, 3-3 in Southern Conference play.
For a team projected to win the Southern Conference, there is still significant work to be done. A positive first step would be a victory over Western Carolina University Thursday night, Jan. 30, in Alumni Gym. Back on Jan. 4, the Catamounts knocked off Elon in both teams’ SoCon opener, just another step on a rocky road for the Phoenix.
Since that game, the Catamounts have not beaten a team with a winning record in conference play. Sure, Western has defeated Samford University, Georgia Southern University and The Citadel, but in tests against Wofford College and Davidson College, they have fallen flat. In the Wofford game, the Catamounts trailed by double digits throughout the entire second half before losing by 11.
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Alumni Gym is one of the toughest road venues in the Southern Conference, with Elon taking nine of its last 10 games in the building. All three of the Phoenix’s SoCon losses this season have been on the road, so the venue poses a challenge for the visitors from Cullowhee.
In the previous matchup, Catamount redshirt senior guard Trey Sumler scored 21 points, so perimeter defense will be key for Elon. This is a change from some recent games, where Elon has been torched by post play from players such as Davidson senior forward De’Mon Brooks and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior forward Z. Mason.
Western Carolina only shoots 41.8 percent as a team, so if Elon can effectively play defense, the Phoenix will have the upper hand.
Elon is a team that has struggled on defense at times this season, allowing 74.2 points per game. Western Carolina is similar at 71.8 points per game allowed, so “little things” such as rebounding could determine the game.
Rebounding is one aspect of the game that Elon sticks out at over Western Carolina – the Phoenix grabs 2.5 more rebounds per game than the Catamounts. It was the opposite that was true, though, back on Jan. 4 when the Catamounts outrebounded the Phoenix, 34-32. A defining stat from that game was a 14-8 offensive rebounding edge for Western Carolina.
If Elon can control the glass and the perimeter, the Phoenix should be able to ride the home court advantage to revenge over Western Carolina. A Thursday win will be key, as Elon will play its next seven games against teams with sub-.500 conference records. In order for the Phoenix to turn its season around and go on a roll, they need a defining home win.
Thursday night provides that chance.