Elon University men's basketball team pulled off an incredible upset against the defending Coastal Athletic Association champions, defeating Delaware 73-67 on Feb. 15 at Schar Center.

It was an upset no one saw coming with Elon missing star player graduate student Rob Higgins and coming off a brutal loss at Towson on Feb. 12.

Sophomore TK Simpkins said that the team had to step up to fill his absence. 

“I feel like Rob is a big piece of our team, but we can't dwell on his absence. So you just gotta keep playing hard,” Simpkins said.

Head coach Billy Taylor said it was a great win and he is very proud of his team.

“Delaware is a terrific team. They’re in the upper echelon of our league. So, to be able to win at home in front of a crowd that was energized and got behind us, it was really exciting to see,” Taylor said.

The Phoenix played lights out in the first half, playing some of their best basketball all season. Taylor described it as their best, consistent 40 minutes of the season.

Sophomores Max Mackinnon and Simpkins set the tone early. Simpkins scored four points — including a dunk — within the first three minutes. Mackinnon scored the first points of the game and continued his hot play with 14 points in the first half. 

Delaware, who entered the game tied for third in the CAA standings, struggled to get anything going throughout the entire first half. They started the half off with a terrible field goal percentage, only making 31% of their shots in the first nine minutes. This was partly due to the stout defense of Elon, who also played some of their best defense all year.

Simpkins said the defense was a huge part of the game plan. 

“Coach always just wants us to have active hands, and if we have active hands, we get the deflections and it leads to points,” Simpkins said. 

Delaware’s leading scorer, graduate student Gerald Drumgoole Jr., had seven of the team’s first eight points, but disappeared and only scored four more points the rest of the half.

Turnovers were a key reason the Blue Hens went into the half down by seven. The team had 10 turnovers at halftime, which was aided by a two-minute period where they committed three turnovers. 

Going into the second half, Delaware was on upset alert thanks to their poor shooting and undisciplined play style — despite having the rebound advantage.

But the second half was another story. The Blue Hens started off strong, forcing junior Sam Sherry to be subbed out within the first 10 seconds due to his three fouls. Sherry ended up fouling out with three minutes left in the game. After that, the Phoenix struggled to hit their long range shots, going 2-10 in the second half. 

Throughout the second half, Delaware played the way they became accustomed to in their 16-10 season. This strong play was aided by Drumgoole Jr. and senior Jyáre Davis, who scored 24 and 19 points, respectively. 

Delaware’s elite presence at the glass helped, too. They ended up out-rebounding Elon 37 to 26, which became a big contributor down the stretch.

But Elon wasn’t out of it just yet, forcing three turnovers in two and a half minutes late in the game. Elon also exchanged lead changes with Delaware almost every possession.

In the final minutes, Elon pulled away. Delaware went on a scoring drought for four and a half minutes, and a clutch 3-pointer by Mackinnon at the top of the key with a minute left sealed the deal and sent the crowd into a frenzy as the improbable win was secured.

Taylor said that recovering from lead changes and securing the win came down to communication. 

“We continued to play with activity on the defense, and the guys were really talking and were engaging, recognizing the personnel,” Taylor said. “We got some deflections, then some steals and then we were able to recover offensively.”

Mackinnon said he believes defense was what led the team to ultimately overcome the rebound disadvantage. 

“We didn't win the rebound count, but we were still competing. Our activity on the defensive end just helping once again,” Mackinnon said.

Mackinnon and Simpkins turned out to be the difference makers, scoring 26 points and 25 points, respectively. Both were season highs, and Mackinnon’s output was a career high.

Taylor also said he was extremely proud of how the two of them played. 

“For those guys who go out and get 51 points, and 11 rebounds, six assists, no turnovers for the two of them — that's just a fantastic game,” Taylor said.

Taylor further emphasized how it was important to utilize their playstyles throughout the game.

“It’s basically about getting them to the spots where they can be most comfortable, where they can attack or they can get downhill, or Max can get a post-up, get paint touches, and then kind of play out of that,” Taylor said.

The win was Elon’s first win against Delaware since 2019, and represents a turning point for the program. 

“Tonight, we're going to enjoy this victory because it means a lot to our program to the young men in that locker room,” Taylor said.

Out of all the fantastic plays that the Phoenix showcased, Taylor was most proud of the team’s competitive spirit. 

“The way things went in Towson, it's been a busy week for us. We fly back. Obviously guys are going to class, you’ve got your academic load and a tough home game against a really talented ballclub,” he said. “And to have that kind of competitive spirit tonight at home was really impressive for me to see as a coach.”

Elon will play next at University of North Carolina, Wilmington at 7 p.m. on Feb. 17 in Trask Coliseum.