Behind 10 three-pointers, the Elon University men’s basketball team topped Samford University, 86-69, Feb. 15 in Alumni Gym. The game’s first half was a series of runs, but Elon was able to pull away in the second half to bury the visiting Bulldogs.
Elon started the game by forcing three Samford turnovers in the first three minutes, and junior guard Kevin Blake dunked on a fast break with 16:57 left in the half. Samford coach Bennie Seltzer called timeout, and though Elon was able to build a 9-4 lead, the Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run to get a 12-9 lead at the 15:07 mark.
“We had some lapses, but they were also making some good shots,” Elon senior forward Lucas Troutman said. “They’re a great shooting team and that’s one of the great abilities they have is to be able to knock down shots.”
From there, Elon went on a six-minute, 12-2 run that featured scoring from three different players — Troutman, Blake, and senior guard Jack Isenbarger. Isenbarger had five of the points, including a 3-pointer with 10:29 left in the half.
“I thought we played with a bounce in our step tonight,” Elon head coach Matt Matheny said. “I thought we played aggressive defensively. We were on our toes offensively, which means we were attacking. The first half was as good as we’ve played in a while.”
A 3-pointer from senior guard Sebastian Koch gave Elon an eight-point lead at the 8:27 mark, but Samford answered back with a 6-0 run to trim that lead down to two. The theme of runs continued as Elon went on a 10-2 run from the 6:32 to 4:14 marks to extend its lead to 10 points.
Another Koch 3-pointer with 1:28 remaining before halftime pushed Elon’s lead to 41-30. The Phoenix would take a 43-32 advantage to the locker room at halftime, shooting 50 percent from the field. All five Elon starters had at least five points in the first half, which gave way to all of them reaching double figures by the end of the night.
“It’s good to have that balanced scoring,” Matheny said. “One thing that we’ve struggled with is we haven’t handled teams that do what I call patient pressure. I thought we really attacked it really well. I thought we had a ‘catch and face’ mentality and a ‘catch and get to the rim’ mentality.”
At the half, Elon had 18 points in the paint and another 18 from behind the arc.
“That just shows us how many weapons we have,” Koch said. “We just feed off each other and create, that makes the game a lot easier.”
Samford opened the second half of play with a 9-2 run in the first three and half minutes, keyed by sophomore forward Tim Williams, who scored five of the nine. Williams would go on to score 22 points on the night, three more than the 19 he had in the two teams’ previous meeting Jan. 25 in Birmingham, Ala.
“We really wanted to try and stop Williams,” Matheny said. “He’s really difficult to guard. What we wanted to do was make things difficult for him; at times we were able to. We did not want to focus so much on stopping them inside that we gave up the outside.”
The Bulldogs were never able to trim the Elon lead below four points, though the game remained as close as five until the 6:41 mark of the half. Elon used another run — this one 10-2 — to pull away to a 10 point advantage. In the game’s final five and half minutes, the margin never went below double digits, and Elon’s largest lead of the game was the final margin of victory at 17 points.
“Samford is a tough team to guard consistently but we held on and we got a victory,” Matheny said. “I think we’re defending better. When we can get consecutive stops, we can get some runs.”
Elon earned its fifth straight win, as the Phoenix has not lost since the defeat at Samford Jan. 25.
“When we went there, we were tentative and didn’t attack at all,” Koch said. “The pressure got to us and their zone got to us. Tonight our mindset was attack, attack, attack. We attacked the zone and got good looks and did a great job executing.”
Elon was led by Koch and Isenbarger, who each had 17 points. Troutman followed with 16 points, and senior forward Ryley Beaumont added 14. The final starter, Blake, reached 10 points.
Williams paced Samford with 22 points. Elon improved to 15-11, 8-3 in conference, while Samford fell to 11-17, 5-8 in Southern Conference play.
Elon will visit the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Feb. 19 for a 7 p.m. tipoff.