In its final home game of the 2022-23 season, the Elon University women’s basketball team defeated the University of North Carolina Wilmington 52-42. A back and forth battle for the Phoenix, with a small comeback by UNCW, ended in an emotional night for the seniors and graduate students as they left the court at Schar Center one final time.
Graduate student guard Lenaejha Evans came to Elon for her final college season after playing for two seasons at Rider University. She said stepping off of the court was bittersweet.
“Like coach said, she wished she had me for all four years, and I wish the same thing,” Evans said. “I learned a lot here. It's a great atmosphere, and I just love the people here.”
At the final buzzer, graduate student center Evonna McGill finished her last game after three seasons with the Phoenix with tears in her eyes. Head coach Charlotte Smith said though emotional, she was happy the team could pull out a victory not only for the seniors, but also to boost spirits of the entire team.
“This is the final game in Schar Center for a lot of wonderful seniors, but what better way to go out than with a W,” Smith said. “Hopefully this gives us some momentum going into the tournament. I’m really excited about this team and really excited that we were able to grind it out for 40 minutes and come out with the win.”
A different starting five began on the floor for the Phoenix, missing freshman guard and Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week Raven Preston because of injury. Evans said she stayed confident even with a different lineup.
“I knew I had to step up a little bit more, but I think the team stepped up as a whole,” Evans said. “We did what we needed to do, and everybody played their role.”
Initially, the Phoenix got out to a slow start, down by 10-7 with four minutes and 23 seconds left at the first media timeout of the game. Coming back onto the court, each shot was missed for over two minutes, until Evans nailed a jumper. Two points were traded for each team, until Evans found herself sprinting down the court with seconds left, nailing a three point buzzer beater putting the Phoenix up 14-12.
“I didn't even know I was going to make it,” Evans said. “I was just looking at the shot clock and tried to get the ball up, and I surprised myself with that shot.”
The first quarter would be the last time the Seahawks saw a lead, as Elon began to take over throughout the final three quarters of the game. Defensively, the Phoenix was able to hold the Seahawks back, forcing the team to miss shot after shot in the second, only scoring off of four free throws made by graduate student guard Carrie Gross and junior center Lexi Jackson.
McGill said she was impressed with the team’s defensive front.
“Every practice and every game, coach stresses defense because at the end of the day, defense is what wins games,” McGill said. “We all just talked about it as a team to come out with energy, and if we don't do anything else, we need to get a stop.”
Heading into the third, the Phoenix was up 26-21 after two good free throws from Evans. McGill began the scoring with a layup in the paint, assisted by redshirt freshman guard Kamryn Doty. The third was finished off by two three pointers from junior forward Ajia James, increasing the lead 40-27.
“We all played really good together tonight,” McGill said. “In past games, we didn't talk as much on the court, but today we really harped on taking up space, talking to each other and being intentional about playing with each other, and today it made a difference.”
McGill started off the fourth with a bang, scoring three layups, capping off her 10 total points after an initial one by UNCW graduate student center Asia Henderson.
“I've been seeing the trust that the coaches have put into me, I've been starting to see it flourish,” McGill said. “At first, I wasn't really seeing it, but out there I trust them and I trust the process. Getting here and getting extra shots, I'm starting to see the fruit of my labor.”
Her final time scoring at Schar would bring the total to 46-31, as McGill fouled out prior to the media timeout. In the final four minutes, UNCW clawed back and chipped away at what was at its largest a 16 point lead, bringing the score to 48-42.
In the final seconds, UNCW tried to play the foul game on senior guard Bria Harmon, but she made all four free throws, bringing the final score to 52-42.
Smith said she hopes this win will build momentum for the Phoenix’s final game at Towson University March 4.
“Any time you win a game, you leave the building feeling good about yourself and feeling good about what you accomplished,” Smith said. “It's definitely good to end on a positive note and to get a little bit of momentum going into this home stretch.”
After the regular season ends, the Phoenix will be headed back to Towson, Maryland, for the CAA championship tournament.
“We know we're capable,” Smith said. “It's just a matter of us playing Elon basketball for 40 minutes. Basketball is a game of mistakes, but we want to minimize those mistakes, and when we do that we give ourselves a chance to be successful and we can play with the best of them. We've proven that.”