Elon University men’s basketball team defeated Presbyterian College 82-79 with the help of a buzzer-beater victory at Schar Center on Nov. 27.
The heroic win was a statement win for Elon, defeating a previously 5-2 Blue Hose squad that already had a win over Vanderbilt under its belt.
The Phoenix seemed to get off to a rough start, squandering their opening possession by turning it over and going on a 0-7 scoring drought in the opening minutes of the game.
But graduate student Zac Ervin’s explosive first half propelled Elon back into a lead. Ervin scored 14 points in the first period, only missing one shot. Ervin’s back-to-back three pointers half way through the first period helped spearhead an incredible scoring run, and Elon put their offensive prowess on display with a 20-4 run.
Fouls and turnovers were a defining factor for Elon’s early success. They forced the Blue Hose to commit nine fouls and eight turnovers in the first half, creating a scrappy game environment that favored Elon’s physicality.
However, Presbyterian attempted to mount a comeback toward the end of the first half. The Blue Hose cut the deficit to six off the heels of a 7-0 run, but Elon shook off this attempt by kickstarting the second half with an extension of their lead. A three pointer by fifth-year student Rob Higgins gave Elon their largest lead of 19.
Ervin’s superb play continued in the second half, ending with a total of 18 points. Ervin even made history with his three-point shooting, as he passed Chris Long’s ’11 record for 12th most three pointers in program history.
But Ervin wasn’t the sole reason for Elon’s victory. Five different players reached double digits in points, including freshman Nick Dorn, Higgins, Ervin, sophomore Max Mackinnon and sophomore TK Simpkins.
Ervin’s historic night almost ended with about six minutes left in the game following an injury that caused him to limp off the court — only to return a few minutes later.
In the final minutes, Presbyterian came back from the dead with a surge of offense by a 14-point second half from junior Kaleb Scott paired with sloppy play by Elon, who committed 13 turnovers in the second half.
Elon head coach Billy Taylor said he was disappointed with how the team’s lead dwindled.
“When you get a lead by 19, and then all of a sudden you kind of relax a little bit, they turn up their defensive pressure,” Taylor said. “Our execution wasn't at the level that it needed to be.”
Ervin said he believes the team could have lost their lead due to inexperience of younger players.
“We do have a lot of young guys that haven't necessarily been in that situation,” Ervin said.
The game seemed ready to head into overtime when Presbyterian’s leading scorer, junior Jonah Pierce, scored a game-tying bucket with 3.6 seconds remaining.
But Higgins got the ball in his hands, ran up the court, pulled up at the top of the key and launched it. As the game-winner fell into the net as the clock hit zero, the Schar Center rocked with the cheers of the home crowd.
Taylor said he drew up the final play to be rooted in Higgin’s decision-making.
“We trust him, he’s a veteran player. We knew he would throw the ball to an open teammate or take the shot,” Taylor said. “He really stepped up and made a huge shot for us.”
According to Higgins, it’s a special moment for any player to hit a buzzer-beater shot.
“I always dreamed about it, so it’s pretty cool that it happened tonight,” Higgins said.
Though Elon continues to struggle with squandering large leads, this win is a sign of a good future for the basketball program. Having reached 4-3, this is the best start for the program since the 2017-18 season when coach Matt Matheny led the team to a 6-3 start.
Taylor also said he attributes this start to the season to a newfound level of consistency from the team.
“Whether we're up 19 down to the last second shot, we're going to try to be consistent talking about the same values in terms of sharing the basketball, playing unselfish, playing with toughness and really loving each other,” Taylor said.
Elon will attempt to improve their record at home to 3-0 when they play Warren Wilson College at 7 p.m. on Nov. 30 at Schar Center.
Benjamin Burfield contributed to the reporting of this story.