The Elon University men’s basketball team defeated East Tennessee State University 79-76 in its home opener Nov. 9 at the Schar Center, fueled by first half dominance and last second heroics. This was their first win over the Buccaneers since 2005, and avenged a brutal loss against ETSU in the Asheville Championship last year.
The Phoenix got off to a rocky start, plagued by early turnovers and superb defense by ETSU. In the first three minutes, Elon found themselves having committed four turnovers. ETSU quickly found themselves up by 10.
However, sophomore LA Pratt helped Elon get back on track with back-to-back 3-pointers.
Three-pointers were a major propeller for the Phoenix's strong first half. The team went to halftime with a 3-point percentage over 61, aided by the red hot start of Pratt who went 4-4 from the 3-point line in the first period.
Head coach Billy Taylor attributes the team’s offensive success to the defense shutting down ETSU.
“Our defense really got us going and then we could get out in transition and play fast,” Taylor said.
Australian native sophomore Max Mackinnon also contributed 10 points, which included two 3-pointers, in the first half.
The Buccaneers found no answer for Elon as the first half neared its end, allowing the Phoenix to go on a 16-2 run. The first half ended off the heels of an electric buzzer beater corner 3-pointer by Pratt, leaving the Phoenix up by 11 into half.
Elon came out of the half looking just as dominant as they were in the first half, going just over 50% from the field in the first 10 minutes of the second period. ETSU couldn’t find a way to get the points that they so desperately needed, opening the half 3-14 from the field.
The Phoenix's continued strong play in the second half came as a result of strong play by Mackinnon, who led the team with 17 points and seven rebounds. Seven of his points came in the second half.
Mackinnon said he attributes his strong shooting paired with a multitude of rebounds to an effort to become more physical.
“Over the summer, I tried to look into my diet and lose a couple pounds,” Mackinnon said. “I feel more agile and cool.”
In the beginning of the second half, Elon jumped to a 21-point lead. The Phoenix played interstate rival Wake Forest on Monday where they squandered a 21-point lead as a result of a lackluster second half. This time around, they let the lead diminish, but remained calm in the face of adversity.
“We just have to understand that there is no time to relax, not in Division One games. You cannot relax and we're learning that now,” Taylor said.
ETSU junior Quimari Peterson refused to go out quietly and had an incredible 31-point performance. The duo of juniors Jaden Seymour and Peterson scored a combined 37 points in the second half and tried to fuel a Buccaneers comeback late into the game; they brought the lead down to a two-point deficit with four seconds remaining.
However, the Buccaneers came up short in a thrilling finish, losing control of the ball on their final chance to hit a game tying three after the ball was deflected by sophomore TK Simpkins.
Taylor said he saw that final play as some improvement on the team’s late game execution.
“They throw it long and TK gets a handle on it, doesn't even give him an opportunity to get a shot. So a lot of good things,” Taylor said.
Compared to last season where it took the team until Jan. 28 to secure a Division I win, tonight’s win gives them their first Division I win in the second game of the season.
Pratt said he is seeking to make this a continuation for the team.
“We hope to bring this to you and not just be like a surprise, you know. I mean, we should expect to win. We plan on winning more games,” Pratt said.
Taylor also said he is glad that the team secured their first win of the season, but hopes to use the continued second half struggles as a learning experience.
“A lot we can take away and learn, but certainly happy to learn from the win,” Taylor said.
The Phoenix look to build off this win and their 1-1 record by facing off against North Dakota at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12 at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.