To celebrate Black History Month, the Elon University women’s basketball team took a different approach to the court against North Carolina A&T. Partnering with the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education, both players and fans at Schar Center were able to honor and appreciate Black culture throughout the game by watching in-game videos and entertainment focused on Black identity and Black student groups at Elon.

Head coach Charlotte Smith said she made sure to instill the powerful message that the recognition game holds within her players.

“I talked about it in my pregame speech, and I had them look around the room,” Smith said. “It makes you scratch your head to think that there was a time in history when we all couldn’t be in the same space. We embrace and celebrate where we’ve come from, because we've come from a long dark history in our country, but we also celebrate the beauty of where we are.”

Prior to the start of the game, the Elon a cappella group Melanated Melodies sang the national anthem, as well as “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as a way to celebrate before players took to the court. Smith said she talked about the importance of recognizing Black culture and history, both in athletics and the larger world. 

“Today we talked about it being bigger than basketball and playing for those who have paved the way for us to have this opportunity,” Smith said.

The Phoenix went on to defeat the Aggies 63-56, shutting down the leader of the Colonial Athletic Association. After snapping its 13-game losing streak last weekend against the University of Delaware, Smith said it was crucial for the team to continue its momentum tonight.

“I think this establishes us in the conference that we are not a pushover team,” Smith said. “This team has just really been a sleeping giant, waiting to awake and walk in their greatness.”

The Phoenix did just that tonight, playing hard in every minute of a close game. Graduate student center Evonna McGill led the team with 16 points. She said she felt comfortable on the court and was able to make big plays throughout the night.

“I came into this game and I had to be really confident and trust the process,” McGill said. “Coach [Smith] was telling us it doesn’t matter what you're ranked, the conference is fair game. Basketball is basketball at the end of the day, so in practice, teammates were talking to each other and trusting each other to go out and execute.”

Freshman guard Raven Preston and graduate student guard Lenaejha Evans were also able to put up double digits tonight, scoring 12 and 10 points respectively. Preston also added 12 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season. 

The Phoenix stayed on top of the Aggies throughout the first half and led 28-27 at halftime. Foul after foul for the Phoenix turned into points for the Aggies, something Smith said she is hoping to clean up in upcoming games.

“We are young. We don’t want to use that as an excuse, but at the same time experience goes a long way,” Smith said. “And so our objective has been to mature our younger players to get them up to speed in terms of what we are trying to accomplish.”

After a close first half, the Phoenix came out of the locker room hungry for the win, outscoring the Aggies 17-13 in the third quarter. The momentum continued through the fourth as the Phoenix held on for the 63-56 victory.

“This was definitely a big win for this ball club,” Smith said. “Kudos to our team for continuing to stay the course of trying to get one percent better every day to position ourselves to be successful.”

The Phoenix travels to face College of Charleston in its next game at 2 p.m. Feb. 5, as the team will look to win consecutive games for the first time since November. 

As for tonight’s win, Smith said she will be enjoying it for as long as possible.

“We just stay in this moment,” Smith said. “This is something to just revel in and to bask in this moment because it's a big win. We’ll worry about Charleston tomorrow.”