After trailing 36-29 at halftime, Elon took control of the game early in the fourth quarter. The Phoenix opened the final frame on a 14-0 run to take a 20 point lead.
“I’m pleased with our second half adjustments and our second half grit that we applied defensively,” head coach Charlotte Smith said.
Elon outscored William & Mary 56-25 in the second half and shot 59% from the field compared to William & Mary’s 43%. Elon also attempted 22 free throws in the second half compared to William & Mary’s six.
“I felt like we got a lot of good looks out of our ball screen offense,” Smith said. “We pushed the ball in transition and were able to get some easy buckets in transition offense.”
Sophomore forward Ajia James scored a career-high 17 points, including 12 in the second half. James went 4-9 from the field, including two three-pointers. Smith said she anticipated a strong performance from James going into this game.
“We knew that they would play some zone and she’s got a great offensive three-point shot, and so she was able to capitalize on some easy opportunities versus their zone,” Smith said.
James has seen her role increase in recent games, as she has played at least 20 minutes in three of the team’s last four games after playing that much in just five of the team’s 22 games. James said she has grown as a player this season through team practices and her individual preparation.
“I’m just staying focused and preparing myself on the scouting and things like that, and then just learning when we have practices,” James said. “I’m always learning new things, so just continuing to take that into the games and then working on my shot.”
The Phoenix trailed 16-14 at the end of the first quarter and trailed by as many as 10 points in the second. Elon struggled with William & Mary redshirt senior guard Sydney Wagner in the second quarter, as Wagner scored 13 points on 5-6 shooting, including a trio of three-pointers. Smith said Elon improved defensively against Wagner — who finished the game with 30 points — in the second half.
“We were a little bit more intentional about trying to make the shots tougher for her in the second half,” Smith said.
A three-pointer in the closing seconds from redshirt senior guard Ariana Nance brought Elon within seven points (36-29) at halftime. James felt the team started flat in the start, but said the team refocused during the halftime break.
“We knew our energy was low,” James said. “We talked about what we could do better and we went out there in the second half, we had great energy and intensity, and that kind of brought us all back together and it showed.”
A 10-0 run early in the third quarter gave Elon back the lead at 41-40. After William & Mary briefly took the lead back, a pair of made free throws by James put Elon ahead 49-47 with 2:58 remaining and the Phoenix did not trail from that point on.
Seniors Duru Tasman and Kellyn Trowse played the final 1:38 for Elon. Trowse, a walk-on who was a four year starter for Elon’s volleyball team, made the first free throw of her career with 14 seconds left. Smith said she was glad all of her seniors were able to play in their final career home games.
“I’m extremely happy for our seniors to end the final home game of the season with a win and to give everybody an opportunity to be able to play,” Smith said. “It’s one of those games where you sleep well tonight.”
Elon’s 85 points and 11 made three pointers were both season-highs. Senior guard Brie Perpignan scored 16 points, 10 of which came in the second half.
The Phoenix is now 8-9 in conference play and can clinch the fourth seed in the upcoming Colonial Athletic Association Tournament with a victory. With six wins in its last eight games, James said Elon is starting to play its best basketball of the season just in time for the postseason.
“Going into the conference tournament, everybody’s eager,” James said. “We just have to keep playing hard for 40 minutes and do what we can do.”
Elon concludes its regular season on Saturday with a rematch against William & Mary. The game in Williamsburg, Virginia will begin at 2 p.m. Smith said she likes having the same opponent in back-to-back games, which is similar to what the team faced last season when the CAA scheduled weekend doubleheaders to minimize travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I actually enjoyed the format last year because it allowed you, if you lost a game, to potentially bounce back, make some significant adjustments and bounce back,” Smith said. “We’ll watch film tonight and see what adjustments we can make to be better on Saturday.”