HARRISONBURG, Va. — The Elon University women’s basketball team looked the part of a top seed and tournament favorite.
Confident. Dominant. In control.
Any nerves the Phoenix had were erased early in Thursday afternoon’s 78-50 victory over ninth-seeded Hofstra University in a Colonial Athletic Association women’s basketball quarterfinal at the JMU Convocation Center.
Even with the performance that was expected — largest margin of victory in a conference tournament game since joining the Division I ranks, four players in double-figures, a lead as big as 31 — it wasn’t as satisfying as the Phoenix would have liked.
“I feel like the jitters got out,” said senior forward Jenifer Rhodes. “We have a lot of veterans on our team. We’ve been here before. We know how to take care of business. I feel like we especially came out to play.
“I don’t think we were satisfied with the win, but we got it done.”
The Phoenix will play No. 4 College of William & Mary at 4:30 p.m. Friday. The Tribe beat No. 5 University of Delaware 59-44.
Essence Baucom, the sharp-eyed senior guard, scored a team-high 15 points and dished out four assists, while Rhodes, the capable forward who controlled the post all day, added 14 points as the Phoenix returned to the conference semifinals for the fourth time in five years.
This year was different.
Elon, in a rare position of entering the conference tournament with the bulls-eye on its back, wasn’t as sharp early. Junior guard Shay Burnett committed a turnover on the opening possession, and the Phoenix was charged with six in the opening quarter.
But from there, Elon settled in and did what it knows best.
Elon shared the ball on offense, and ran many of its sets effectively. The Phoenix was able to get in transition, too, with Baucom scooping up a steal and finding senior guard Lenaira Ruffin driving near the end of the first half.
But still, head coach Charlotte Smith saw lots to be desired from her team, the CAA regular-season champions.
“It’s me, the coach who’s never satisfied,” she said as she began her press conference. “Hopefully playing today will get rid of some of the bugs because we got off to a slow start.”
Elon’s defense helped build a 19-point halftime lead, stopping Hofstra on 13 of its 17 second-quarter possessions.
The performance was in stark contrast to Elon’s CAA Tournament opener a year ago — a seven-point loss to Delaware, sending the Phoenix home earlier than expected.
That, and much of Elon’s success this season, could easily be attributed to experience. The Phoenix started three seniors Thursday in Rhodes, Baucom and guard Lauren Brown (11 points), along with two juniors in Burnett (10 points, five assists) and center Malaya Johnson (six points).
“Us as veterans understand the seriousness of the moment,” Baucom said. “At this point, it’s win or go home. We know that we don’t want to be on the road headed back to Elon. We try to step up, rally the younger kids and get it done.”
The Phoenix, regardless of how pleased it was, did just that against Hofstra. It needs two more victories here to secure that coveted automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
With the jitters eliminated and its experience shining through, Elon took the first step toward that.
NOTES…: Junior guard Aleana Leon led the Pride (13-18) with 22 points. … The Phoenix led 39-33 on the boards, but allowed 15 offensive rebounds. That likely was part of why Smith wasn’t satisfied. … Elon shot 52.6 percent from the field. Hofstra was just 7 of 26 from 3-point land, and 28.8 percent overall.