The Elon University men’s basketball team lost in heartbreaking fashion at home to the College of Charleston Cougars on Feb. 5, 66-64.

The Phoenix maintained a lead over the Cougars for over 38 minutes. Head coach Mike Schrage emphasized the progress of his players while still addressing the short-comings of the team. 

“I love our group, believe in them,” Schrage said. “The key is playing our best when it matters most for the rest of the season.”

Rough opening minutes for the Cougars featuring five turnovers led to an early Elon 8-0 lead. Baskets from sophomore guard Darius Burford and junior guard Hunter McIntosh opened the scoring for the Phoenix.

Coming into the contest, sophomore forward Michael Graham ranked first in the Colonial Athletic Association in rebounds (9.0) and field goal percentage (69.5). Graham continued to impress against Charleston, making highlight plays throughout the first half, including blocks, fade-aways and another “Graham Slam” Dunk. Along with Burford, Graham also led the way for a tenacious Phoenix defense that played aggressively the entire game.

With five minutes remaining in the first half, College of Charleston mounted a 9-0 run to tie it up with Elon. The run ended with a corner three from Burford and launched an 8-0 run for the Phoenix. Those scoring runs would be the largest by each team.

The story of the first half was written by the Elon defense, which held College of Charleston to 29.6% from the field, forced 10 turnovers, had three blocks and four steals. However, despite the commanding numbers, the Phoenix entered the locker room with only a seven-point lead, 31-24.

Mirroring the beginning of the first half, the second opened with a rough start for the Cougars, starting 1-5 from the field and accumulating four more turnovers in the first four minutes. 

A pair of three-pointers from senior guard Kris Wooten and junior guard Zac Ervin put a passionate Schar Center home crowd on its feet. On the other hand, College of Charleston posted a statistically bad performance from behind the arc, going 11% (2-20) from three-point range.

Regardless of poor shooting performance and Elon’s statistically dominant day on defense, the Cougars refused to go down without a fight, keeping the score close the whole way. However, the Phoenix’s offense, behind two deep McIntosh three-pointers, kept the Phoenix on top.

With two minutes left in the contest, freshman forward Raekwon Horton for College of Charleston hit a clutch three-pointer to take Elon’s lead down to two. That was followed by two baskets by sophomore forward Nick Farrar to take Charleston’s first lead of the game.

Burford tied the game at 62 with a pair of free throws, but senior forward John Meeks answered with two free throws to give Charleston a two-point lead.

The Phoenix looked to McIntosh in the closing minutes. In its last full offensive possession, McIntosh drove into the paint and was fouled. He drained both to tie the game back up. 

Schar Center’s electric home crowd was on its feet with six seconds remaining. Coming out of a timeout, College of Charleston inbounded the ball to Farrar. Losing the ball for a second, he regained possession and scored a fade-away jump shot to cap off a career-high 23 points and a comeback for the Cougars. With two seconds remaining and no timeouts left, McIntosh received the inbound and heaved up a last-chance shot to win it, ultimately missing.

“We’re definitely going to watch the film, be able to learn from this,” McIntosh said. “A game like that, it doesn’t come down to one shot.”

Elon was led by McIntosh, who finished with a team-high 20 points. Burford added 14 points and led the team with four assists. Senior forward Chuck Hannah led in rebounds with six. The Phoenix were plagued by early foul trouble from their forwards and 20 turnovers.

“We talked about it the other night, playing bigger,” Schrage said. “It got harder to play bigger today because of Michael Graham, and Sam Sherry got in foul trouble… we had to rethink what our plan was.” 

The Phoenix will return to action on Thursday, Feb. 10, for a rematch against the James Madison Dukes. The Phoenix won the first round in commanding fashion, 90-67. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m on FloSports.