With only seven returning players, questions loomed over the heads of the Phoenix as the team entered Schar Center to open the new season. A new coaching staff, a new system and a revamped roster were on display in front of a home crowd of over 1,800.
The Phoenix started slow, shooting 27.3% from the field and accumulating five turnovers in the opening 13 minutes of the first half. However, three straight three pointers from senior forward Zac Ervin was the push Elon needed to save its shooting woes.
“I think it was just first-game jitters,” senior forward Torrence Watson said. “We had some guys, new to the floor, new to Elon. We had a great turnout, and we're just happy that we got the result that we did.”
To end the first half, Watson scored an improbable buzzer-beating three pointer to send both squads into the locker room. Facing the possibility of dropping its home opener, the Phoenix was now in control with a 42-25 lead.
Elon continued to build its lead for the entire second half, never falling from a double-digit lead over the Flying Fleet. Taylor said he was pleased with the team’s ability to recover and execute after the early struggles.
“As our guys started to settle into the flow of the game a little bit, our defense got better,” Taylor said. “We were able to guard the basketball a little bit better and keep the ball in front of us.”
Primarily led by the group of five freshmen, the bench of the Phoenix contributed 31 points and played a prominent role in Elon’s stellar opening performance. Freshman forward Deandre Smart shined, as he scored 15 points to be the team's second-leading scorer in his first minutes as a Phoenix.
“At first, I was really nervous,” Smart said. “I didn't know what to expect, what was going to happen, but I just went out there and just played as hard as I could.”
Elon was led by Watson, who paced the Phoenix in points with 16 and rebounds with nine. Smart’s impressive debut led to 15 points and five rebounds. Graduate guard Sean Halloran also had an exciting Schar Center debut, leading the team with five assists and four steals.
“It was really a lot of fun,” Taylor said. “It was great to be in Schar, to be at home for our first contest in front of our fans, our family and our friends, and it just felt really good. It felt really natural.”
The Phoenix will head to Asheville, North Carolina, for the Asheville Championship to play the East Tennessee State Buccaneers on Nov. 11. With a win, Elon would move on to play Harvard or Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 13.