The thought elicited some wide-eyed facial expressions, a chuckle or two and most certainly some brainstorming to see if it was really true.
Alas, it was. After nearly an entire season of serving as the doormat in the cellar of the Colonial Athletic Association, the Elon University men’s basketball team had something to pride itself on.
So coach Matt Matheny threw the almost-jarring proposal onto the table.
“You can write that we’re the hottest team,” Matheny said. “Does anyone else have a three-game win streak?”
No, no one else does. It’s just Elon, riding a three-game winning streak into this week’s CAA Tournament in Baltimore.
Elon will be the No. 8 seed in the CAA Tournament, and will take on No. 9 Towson University on Friday, March 6 in the tournament’s opening game. Should the Phoenix win that game, it’ll face top seed College of William & Mary the next day.
“We can build off this,” senior guard Austin Hamilton said, “and learn from the mistakes we’re making. Hopefully, we’ll make a run in this tournament.
Elon ended its season on Saturday, Feb. 28 with a dominant 74-55 victory against the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in what was perhaps the best performance the Phoenix has turned in all season. Should UNCW have won, the Seahawks would have clinched the CAA regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.
Two days prior, Elon beat another league contender in Northeastern University, attacking early and holding on for a 72-65 triumph.
Group those two with an 85-79 victory over William & Mary on Jan. 8 and Elon has wins against the CAA’s top three teams in its arsenal. The Phoenix is the lowest seeded team to hold that accomplishment.
Elon, despite a season-ending ACL injury to sophomore guard Luke Eddy, had momentum entering CAA play, and added to that with a 77-67 trouncing of Drexel University in its league opener and the victory over William & Mary less than a week later.
But that disappeared quickly. After beating the Tribe, the Phoenix went on to lose 11 of its next 12 games.
Elon ended what had become a seven-game losing streak by topping the University of Delaware 83-75 on the road in overtime on Feb. 21, only setting the stage for Elon to eventually beat Northeastern and UNCW.
Before last week, Elon hadn’t won back-to-back games since winning four straight in late December and early January.
“We’re playing a lot better,” Matheny said. “The wins are great. Isn’t it great to get that reward? Victory tastes sweet. But I like the play better. We are playing better. We’re not where we need to be yet. We’re playing better, though.”
UNCW went 0-for-14 from 3-point range against Elon, the first time the Phoenix has held its opponent without a 3 since doing the same to Marist College on Nov. 10, 2013. The 23-point lead Elon had in the second half is the largest it’s held against a Division I team all season, and the margin of victory was also the biggest against a Division I team.
If anything, that was a suggestion about how far Elon has come since its downtrodden path traveled in late January.
During the last week of January, Elon went to Wilmington and was handed a ruthless beatdown by UNCW, a loss where the Phoenix trailed by as much as 30 in the second half. Three days later, Elon trekked to Boston only to take an 80-61 loss to Northeastern.
Not only has Elon matured as a team, but the Phoenix has shown that it’s able to learn from its mistakes and grow together.
“I don’t know if it’s becoming something else,” sophomore forward Christian Hairston said. “I just think that all of our hard work has started to come together. We’re continuing to work hard, and we’re continuing to play hard. Eventually, the chips are going to fall. Things are starting to come together for us at the right time.”
Matheny always talks about being at your best in late February and early March, just in time for the postseason.
The last two performances could very well be indicators that Elon is reaching its peak.
No need for snickering, second-guessing or even deep thinking. Elon is hot at the right time.
“We asked our players to make a statement with the remaining time we have,” Matheny said. “The statement we want to make is that Elon guys are tough. Elon guys are resilient. We get off the mat. The message after [UNCW] is that you are making a statement. You haven’t made a statement yet. You’re not done. But we’re making a statement.”