The Elon University men’s basketball team did not break its 101-year long losing streak to Wake Forest University in its season opener Nov. 6. After Elon led by 21 points during the first half, the Demon Deacons dominated the second half at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum — coming out on top 101-78.
Wake Forest’s scorching second period was led by combined scoring efforts from senior forward Andrew Carr, redshirt sophomore guard Kevin ‘Boopie’ Miller and junior guard Cameron Hildreth. The trio combined for 51 of Wake’s 58 second-half points. Elon only put up 23 points in the second half.
While the Demon Deacons might have been the beneficiary of 60% shooting from the field in the closing 20 minutes, that was not the case for them in the opening period. Elon had hot hands in the first half, as they made nine-of-14 shots from 3-point range with five different Phoenix players having triples to their names.
Freshmen guard Nick Dorn and forward Kendall Campbell combined for 20 of Elon’s 55 first-half points. Elon head coach Billy Taylor said while he was impressed by the talent on display from his newcomers, he was equally as impressed by one of his returners: graduate student forward Zac Ervin.
“It allowed us to play fast early on,” Taylor said. “We were able to get out and transition. We had some depth so we were able to run fresh bodies out there. And even, returning guys, you look at Zac's impact in terms of shooting the basketball.”
Ervin made three 3-pointers and notched 11 points in the first half.
Taylor also said he was very pleased with the tempo and pace that the Phoenix played with early on that led to a strong opening half. Elon shared the wealth as they recorded 9 first-half assists.
“We did a lot of things that were terrific in terms of executing the game plan, whether it's getting downhill, sharing the basketball, playing fast, playing in transition and we’re pretty connected defensively,” Taylor said.
Taylor also said he thought Elon sophomore guard Max Mackinnon’s ability to establish himself as a scorer early created more space for the rest of his players to operate on the perimeter. Mackinnon recorded nine points and three assists in the opening period.
Despite valiant efforts by Wake Forest sophomore guard Hunter Sallis and Hildreth, who each scored 15 in the first half, the Phoenix always seemed to have a response. While a Sallis 3-pointer cut the game to single digits with just over two minutes left in the opening stanza, Dorn's hot shooting continued as his third 3-pointer of the night allowed Elon to take a 55-43 lead going into the locker room.
While it seemed like the Phoenix could not miss a shot in the opening period, the opposite felt true in the second half.
Coming out of the break, Wake capitalized on balanced scoring efforts by Hildreth, Carr, Miller and Sallis to quickly chip away at the Elon lead. At the under-16 timeout, the Demon Deacons only trailed by one.
Soon after the media timeout, a made jumper by Hildreth put Wake up 61-60, giving the Demon Deacons their first lead of the night — which also put them up for good. Hildreth’s bucket was part of 14 unanswered points by Wake.
Taylor said he was impressed by the Demon Deacons' “great” second-half adjustments that gave Elon trouble.
“Hildreth, Sallis, all those guys just got downhill, got into paint and we had trouble guarding the basketball and making the proper rotations,” Taylor said. “Once the bleeding started, we couldn't get it back under control.”
While Elon had a couple of moments where it seemed like they might claw their way back into the game, they were unable to mount a comeback and overcome Wake’s dominant second half. The Demon Deacons’ lead would swell to as many as 23 en route to 101 points.
Wake tripled Elon’s rebounding numbers in the second half, as the Demon Deacons ripped down 24 boards in comparison to 8 by the Phoenix. Carr nearly outrebounded the Elon team by himself in the second half, but came up one shy as he notched 7.
The Phoenix were without a key returner who might have been a factor when it came to the battle on the glass, as junior forward Sam Sherry did not play in the matchup due to injury. Last season, Sherry averaged 4.3 rebounds per game and started in 27 of 32 contests.
Taylor said he hoped Sherry would have made an impact on the game, but that he would much rather have his player be completely healthy instead of rushing him back into play.
“We certainly think he would have made an impact tonight, but this time of year, there's guys missing on every roster and you got to play with the guys that you have,” Taylor said. “Hopefully we'll get Sam back soon. He did go through and do warm up and shooting so he's getting close. … We want to make sure that he's completely right when we get him on the floor.”
Wake also recorded six assists while Elon had just one in the second half. While the Demon Deacons’ 23% from 3-point range was not exactly blistering by any standard, it still was enough to outshoot Elon’s abysmal 11% from beyond the arc in the last 20 minutes.
While Wake might have only registered nine points from three in the second half, it was in the paint where they found success as they put up 36 points in the lane.
Taylor said that the Demon Deacons' ability to get to the basket in several different ways created problems for Elon as they “didn’t really have an answer.”
But Taylor also said he was disappointed in Elon’s second-half struggles because a lot of them were “self-induced.” After moving the ball so well in the first half, Taylor said he would have liked to see a similar pace of play instead of the stagnant isolation ball that was a regular occurrence in the second period.
Mackinnon said during Wake’s second half scoring outbursts, the messaging during timeouts was to the extent of “just try to just stay together.”
“One of the words was, we need to stay as a collective,” Mackinnon said. “I think we can build on that going into further games. … Everyone's going to go on runs, and in the future, we want to learn from it. We're a young team, but we're going to learn from it.”
Elon will look to its official home opener scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 9 against East Tennessee State University at the Schar Center.
Mason Willett contributed to the reporting of this story.