With 1.3 seconds left on the clock against the Winthrop University Eagles, senior guard Jerald Gillens-Butler rose up and made a three-point shot to give the Elon University men’s basketball team a 63-61 win, snapping their seven game losing streak.
One year ago, Gillens-Butler had his season cut short due to a ruptured achilles tendon. After missing the last four games of this season due to another injury, he returned to Schar Center for a matchup against the Winthrop University Eagles with one thought on his mind: victory.
“That's just us playing Elon basketball, together — always,” Gillens-Butler said. “That’s just how we play. Unselfish basketball.”
Elon struggled to find offense early, as they were down 16-4 in the first seven minutes. Turnovers and foul trouble defined the first half for the team, as Elon coughed up the ball 10 times in the frame. The Phoenix put the Eagles in the bonus midway in the first half, meaning the Eagles went to the free throw line with each Phoenix foul.
Junior guard Hunter McIntosh closed out the first half with a three-point buzzer beater, cutting Winthrop's lead to five at halftime, 30-25. Gillens-Butler said McIntosh’s shot served as a huge catalyst for the team’s performance in the second half.
“That was a big time shot. It gave us an energy boost,” Gillens-Butler said.
Despite not playing for 19 minutes of the game, Gillens-Butler said sitting on the bench and encouraging his teammates is his main source of “hype” and energy.
“That's what keeps me going, that keeps me high energy, keeps my body warm,” Gillens-Butler said. “I’m still having an active voice, I’m still paying attention to the game, locked in waiting for coach to call my number.”
Sophomore forward Michael Graham had his first double of the season, cashing in 13 points and 15 rebounds for the Phoenix. Head Coach Mike Schrage said he is confident in Graham’s ability to defend and his future impact on Elon’s basketball program.
“I felt like in the first stretch, he was getting every single defensive rebound,” Schrage said. “He’s going to have 14-15 solid rebounds, maybe 20, as his skills continue to grow and his development continues to take off.
The Phoenix opened the second half with intensity. Three minutes into the second half, senior forward Chuck Hannah made a three-pointer to tie the score. Elon began to hold a tight lead in the first five minutes of the second half and did not relinquish it until Winthrop forward D.J. Burns Jr. made a jump shot with eight seconds left.
Schrage said the Phoenix needed a performance like this following a difficult stretch of games to give the team confidence going forward.
“We needed to have a night like tonight where we really held the team down,” Schrage said. “We saw the fruits of our labor. We've been working, we've gone back to square one different times, doing drills that you don't expect to do in December, but we felt like we needed them.”
Schrage said he was glad to see Gillens-Butler make the game-winning play, as he has overcome so many injury-related adversities since last season.
“He's been through a lot in his life,” Schrage said. “He's been through a lot here with his injuries and trying to get right.”
Elon (3-8) will return to action on Dec. 18 for a game against Shaw University. The game at Schar Center will begin at 4 p.m.
“The same effort you think is required for UNC or Duke or wherever on our schedule and our conference this year is required every single night and we've got to develop those habits as competitive habits,” Schrage said. “I see it now forming, I really do.”