GREENSBORO – Winners of three consecutive games when it stepped on the court Wednesday, it looked like the Elon University men’s basketball team was well on its way to a fourth straight against the North Carolina A&T Aggies.
A layup by graduate student point guard Sean Halloran put the Phoenix up 61-57 with 2:52 remaining, quieting North Carolina A&T’s raucous crowd. However, Halloran’s basket would be the last of the night for the Phoenix.
After both teams traded misses from beyond the arc, Duncan Powell converted a three-point play to bring the Aggies within one. Elon proceeded to turn the ball over on its next two possessions before Love Bettis buried a three to give A&T a 63-61 lead with 1:12 left.
Elon missed a pair of threes in the final 11 seconds and lost 66-61, snapping the team’s longest Colonial Athletic Association winning streak since the 2021 CAA Tournament. The Aggies finished the game on a 9-0 run as Elon misfired on its last five field goal attempts.
“Tonight, in the last six minutes, we had way too many mistakes,” head coach Billy Taylor said. “Turnovers, offensive rebounds we gave up and a lack of execution.”
The Phoenix was without graduate student forward Jerald Gillens-Butler, who hit the go-ahead basket late in the team’s victory on Feb. 4 against Northeastern, on Wednesday. Just eight Elon players saw minutes against the Aggies and only seven saw more than three minutes.
Despite being short handed, Elon held North Carolina A&T to just 33% shooting from the field. The Aggies shot a heavy volume of three-pointers, taking 35 for the game. Bettis made six of North Carolina A&T’s 10 threes and while Taylor said he liked how the Phoenix defended for parts of the game, the team needed to do a better job locking in on the Aggies’ hottest shooter.
“We contested shots and we rebounded the ball. They’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot but they take a lot of deep ones,” Taylor said. “We’ve just got to do a better job understanding when somebody's hot. I think that's more the problem. If you take [Love] out of there, he’s six for nine. He was the guy that hurt us from three.”
After defending well during its three-game winning streak, Taylor said defensive lapses late proved costly in a game with tight margins for error.
“I think our guys have understood their responsibilities and that's what's so frustrating about tonight is we did it for the majority of the game, but then made some really critical mistakes later in the game when we needed to close it out and really just weren't as disciplined,” Taylor said.
The first half was tight throughout, as neither team led by more than four points. Graduate student guard Torrence Watson made his first start since Nov. 30 against High Point and led the Phoenix with 12 points in the first half. He went on to finish with a team-high 17 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.
“I was really proud of Torrence. He impacted the game in a big way for us,” Taylor said. “Torrence stepped up in the starting lineup and gave us a scoring punch, and he's been obviously rebounding the ball well. He really had a good all-around game for us. It's a shame that we lost and that we're not celebrating that kind of performance from him.”
Elon led by as many as six early in the second half but could not maintain the advantage as North Carolina A&T’s crowd continued to get louder as the game progressed. Taylor said the energy inside Corbett Sports Center was impressive and that he is excited about the future of this local rivalry.
“This is a tough place to win. It was a good atmosphere. It's obviously what we want to develop in Schar as we continue to play good basketball,” Taylor said. “We played hard, we competed. We’re a little bit short handed and we were right there down the stretch. I’m proud of our guys for how they battled.”
Elon will return to Schar Center for a game against William & Mary Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. as the Phoenix looks to win consecutive home games for the first time since November of 2022.