TOWSON, Md. – Coming into the second round of the Colonial Athletic Association championship tournament, No. 11 Elon University women’s basketball faced No. 6 Stony Brook University in what would end up a crushing 54-51 loss for the Phoenix.
Even as the underdog, the Phoenix dominated the entire game, taking as much as a 16-point lead at the end of the third quarter. But the offensive comeback and defensive press by the Seawolves in the final minutes pushed the game into Stony Brook’s favor, ending the 2022-23 campaign for Elon.
Head coach Charlotte Smith said although the team had majority of control throughout the night, the full court press by the Seawolves defense was the Phoenix’s main downfall, as it flustered her players.
“The press got us out of rhythm,” Smith said. “And then the moments when we did beat the press, we didn't get organized in our offensive scheme. That was the difficulty of expending a lot of energy to beat the press, and now not getting organized and the offense, that was kind of to our detriment.”
Prior to tipoff, freshman guard Raven Preston was honored by CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio as the 2022-23 Rookie of the Year. Preston is the first in program history to earn the award since the Phoenix joined the conference in 2014.
But Preston missed the final two regular season games, as well as tonight’s contest, because of an injury, providing a big hole in the makeup of the Phoenix lineup.
The 14-person roster consists of eight freshmen, each of whom have never played in the championship tournament. Smith said although the team is young, neither she nor the players have ever used that as an excuse, and she has been proud of the young players' continued growth and development throughout the season.
“We knew that we had to show up every day prepared to work and prepared to compete,” Smith said. “And that's what they did.”
Leading off the scoring for the Phoenix was graduate student center Evonna McGill with a layup early in the first quarter. This was McGill’s third CAA Tournament game, and Smith said she and graduate student center Lenaejha Evans provided leadership not only tonight, but the entire season.
“The hard part is that we only had Lenaejha for one year, and you wish you had for many more years because of the contribution that she made in just this single season,” Smith said. “That's the part as a coach that breaks my heart because I want to do my best to extend the season for as long as I can. But I'm very proud of her, and she will always and forever be a Phoenix. We love her.”
In her first and only season with the Phoenix, Evans was a key contributor and led with 285 total points scored. She said she was extremely sad exiting the court for a final time with the Phoenix.
“I played the sport for a long time, and coming here to Elon was one of my best experiences ever,” Evans said. “I hate to go, and I'm thankful for coach for allowing me to come here and allow me to play with this team.”
Evans led the team in eight rebounds and was the second highest scorer with 10 points, beaten out by junior forward Ajia James’ 12.
“I just tried to do the little things to help the team out,” Evans said. “I think everybody did a pretty good job. We fought back, we didn't give up — which I love — but I just had to come out there and do what I had to do to help the team.”
Both teams began stagnant in the first quarter, trading off point for point. Going into the second quarter, down 16-13, redshirt freshman guard Kamryn Doty sank a three pointer to knot up the game, pushing momentum that would soar throughout the second and into the third.
McGill and Evans would go on to sink a two pointer each after a three pointer by Stony Brook’s top scorer Gigi Gonzalez, bringing the score 20-19 in favor of the Phoenix — the lead the team would maintain well throughout the rest of the contest.
The Phoenix showed strong defense and rebounding and looked even better coming out of the locker room at half leading 27-23. The team went on a 9-0 run and led by 16, bringing the score to 41-25 over the stretch.
Smith said losing this lead was difficult to watch from the sidelines.
“Definitely a tough pill to swallow when you get out to such a great start,” Smith said. “In moments like this, you can't let one moment define your entire season.”
Stony Brook followed up Elon’s 9-0 run with a 13-0 run to end the third quarter and continued to overpower the Phoenix on both sides of the ball.
“The main thing that I talked about in pregame was taking care of the ball and rebounds,” Smith said. “We got a little rattled in the fourth quarter, and we didn't rebound the ball as well as I would have liked to rebound.”
The Seawolves commanded a 46-45 lead and never looked back. A late three pointer and three made free throws by Doty would not be enough, as Elon ended the night with a 54-51 loss.
Smith said that through the ups and downs, she is proud of the team’s efforts and is looking forward to its future.
“This season reflected life and how life can be challenging sometimes and how it can knock you down,” Smith said. “But you can continue to be resilient. You get up, and you show up, and that's what they did every day. I couldn't have asked for a better experience this year. Was it hard? Yes. But was it worth it? Yes. Because we grew as people. And that's the most important thing.”