The leading scorer? In bed with the flu. The shooting percentage in the second half? A dismal 28.1 percent. With those two factors going against them, the Elon University men’s basketball team needed every second and one heroic heave to pull out the 60-59 home win Saturday Feb. 8.
Elon had won 11 of 12 Southern Conference home games entering Saturday night’s matchup against Georgia Southern University. Yet as the game wound down, that streak was in jeopardy. The visiting Eagles held a 59-57 edge over the host Phoenix with 9.2 seconds remaining.
Elon inbounded the ball from the baseline needing to go the length of the floor. After a few passes, the ball was in the hands of senior guard Jack Isenbarger. His feet even with the wings of the Phoenix logo spanning the center of the court, Isenbarger let the ball fly. The 30-foot shot arced through the Alumni Gym air and came down – through the net.
At first, Isenbarger claimed he was “maybe two or three feet behind the three point line.” Review of the video after the game revealed that the Zionsville, Ind., native was actually much further back than that. Wherever the shot was taken from, Isenbarger credited teamwork with getting him open.
“(Junior forward) Ryan Winters set a really good screen,” Isenbarger said. “I came off and I saw I had a big on me so I hesitated. I knew I didn’t have much time left so I kind of stepped in in rhythm and took the shot.”
“I had confidence in Jack,” Elon coach Matt Matheny said. “We like to let it go in that situation. I felt like our guys would know what to do.”
Although there was no timeout called before the inbound, the officiating crew mistakenly granted Elon a timeout. The error was corrected quickly, but not until Matheny had a chance to give his team a brief instruction.
“There was an inadvertent whistle and we reminded them what we wanted to run,” he said.
After the shot, there was still .7 seconds left, enough for senior forward Ryley Beaumont to play defense.
“I looked up immediately and knew there was a little bit of time,” Beaumont said. “I excitedly sprinted back, kind of made sure nothing was going wrong and I turned around and half the team was in the stands.”
Georgia Southern was able to get off a last-second heave, but it fell short and pandemonium ensued as fans stormed the floor.
In order to even get to the point of Isenbarger’s three, Elon needed to overcome a disastrous shooting night. The Phoenix was 9 of 32 from the field in the second half, and 21 of 63 overall. Isenbarger himself was 2 of 16 before his game-winner.
One potential cause was that senior forward Lucas Troutman was out with the flu, according to Matheny. Elon was missing 15.7 points per game and a major force in the paint.
“We got a lot of good looks, they just weren’t dropping,” Beaumont said. “We were a little out of rhythm not having Lucas inside but I think focusing on stops we were able to keep ourselves in the game where we had a shot.”
Matheny echoed his senior’s words.
“Our rhythm was different without Lucas,” Matheny said. “But we defended and that gave us a chance to win and Jack made a big shot.”
Elon had a stretch of over 12 minutes in the second half where it had one field goal and a mere six points. Despite that struggle, Elon came out of the sequence only down by eight points, thanks in part to its strong defense. Georgia Southern was 10 of 29 from the field in the second half, and missed several shots in the game’s “crunch time.”
“I couldn’t hit a shot,” Isenbarger said. “I could have got frustrated, but we stayed even keel mentally and continued to fight, where as in years past would have gotten down on ourselves and given in to that frustration. Tonight we just kept playing.”
Georgia Southern took its largest lead of the game at eight points with 4:50 remaining, but Elon freshman forward Brian Dawkins converted a jumper 20 seconds later, leading to a Phoenix timeout.
In the huddle, Matheny told his team to “do something unusual” in order to fight back. Elon responded, closing the game on a 15-6 run to seal its 14th win of the season.
“I think the whole season has been adversity,” Beaumont said. “More and more and more and now we’re really starting to bounce back and even when things aren’t going right we’re able to still get the win. We’re still able to do enough, through defense mostly, to persevere.”
“It’s tough,” Matheny said. “Basketball – this is hard. There’s a lot of parity in our league. We had to fight, scratch and claw.”
Beaumont led Elon with 14 points while Isenbarger tallied 10. Dawkins had seven, a career high.
Georgia Southern was led by redshirt junior Jelani Hewitt, who scored 20 points. Freshman forward Kyle Doyle had 12 for the Eagles, who dropped to 11-14, 4-6 in conference play.
Just seconds away from a crippling defeat, Elon was able to erase those negative feelings and walkaway with a storybook ending, improving its record to 14-11, 7-3 in the Southern Conference.
“You can’t script stuff like this,” Matheny remarked, still beaming. “It’s a great moment.”