The Elon University men’s basketball team started off hot making 9-16 shots in the opening minutes on Saturday but fell off as the game went on, allowing the University of Delaware to dominate and win 70-54. Elon, who came into Saturday’s game with its first round Colonial Athletic Association Tournament matchup already locked in against William & Mary, did not have much to play for with regard to standings.
The game, despite not having much impact on seeding for the conference tournament, had a lot of emotions as the Phoenix celebrated five seniors – Sean Halloran, John Bowen III, Torrence Watson, Andrew Junkin and Jerald Gillens-Butler. Head coach Billy Taylor thanked each player for what they brought to the team.
“Those guys really added a lot to our team and have helped us during the season,” Taylor said.
Halloran, who Taylor first recruited when he coached at Belmont Abbey in 2018 and brought to Elon via the transfer portal this offseason, has a special bond with his coach. Halloran said his time here at Elon has been unforgettable and found new brothers in such a short amount of time.
“It's been awesome,” Halloran said. “It's given a family environment from day one with Coach obviously, and even the players like me being a new guy. I was just able to come here and be myself and that's really all I could ask for.”
Taylor said he has felt blessed to have a player like Halloran during both his times at Belmont Abbey and Elon. For a team with seven freshmen and sophomores, Taylor said Halloran has been a great leader for them.
“What he's meant for us in terms of his leadership, and just understanding our system helping young guys, being so selfless has been amazing,” Taylor said.
Watson, who had a different head coach in each of his two seasons at Elon, stuck through it all and experienced the lows and the highs. Watson said he felt many emotions when stepping on to that court until the final buzzer sounded.
“It's been a wonderful time, you know, even though we've lost I think the things that we'll remember later on in life and the bond that we have with this team,” Watson said. “Even though we're losing like I wouldn't want to lose anybody else like any of the coaching staff, any of the players on the team, we've just built such a great connection.”
Watson experienced tonight in a much more heartbreaking way than just the loss by fouling out in the second half. With tears streaming down Watson’s face, Taylor fought against the referee’s call but to no avail, as he picked up a technical foul.
“That means a lot because he's going to fight for you,” Watson said. “It was a tough moment because it's like knowing that it was my last game and I got my last foul but one thing I can say is that the coaching staff and my brothers are there for me. Like, when I was falling down and was crying, my teammates came and picked me up.”
Taylor said Watson was someone that brought the energy from day one dating back to the Zoom call Taylor had with the entire team before the season started. Taylor said he enjoyed his time coaching Watson and in that emotional moment during the game Watson was a player worth fighting for in that moment.
“That energy he's brought every single day, and it's really been a pleasure to have coached him since I inherited him,” Taylor said. “I wanted to make sure that I continue to fight for our guys.”
Though the regular season is over, Taylor said he was proud of his team's perseverance and strength. After starting 2-19, the Phoenix ended with an 8-23 record, winning six of its final 10 games.
“I love the way that these guys have been able to remain positive in the face of adversity,” Taylor said. “I think that's hard on young people, you’ve got a lot of pressure and there's a lot of challenges that these guys have.”
The players have no time to hang their heads on the loss as the conference tournament starts March 3. The winner of the tournament will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
For Taylor, the regular season can be left in the past, as the Phoenix look to leave it all on the court next week in Washington D.C.
“It's the conference tournament starting so everybody's laying on the line, your season's at stake, and I know our guys will be ready to compete and play in D.C.,” Taylor said.
Elon will play in the second round March 4 against William & Mary, who the Phoenix split two games against during the regular season. The winner of this game will play No. 1 seed Hofstra University on March 5.