ELON, N.C. – Visiting Georgia Southern shot nearly 60 percent from the field in the second half as the Eagles erased a 14-point deficit and handed the Elon Phoenix its first Southern Conference loss of the season, 69-63, in men’s hoops action on Thursday night in Alumni Gym.
Elon (7-6, 2-1) sophomore Jack Isenbarger came off the bench and nailed five three-pointers for 17 points, but it was not enough to overcome the Eagles’ (5-8, 3-0) second-half performance.
An Eric Ferguson bucket with 4:27 remaining gave GSU a 56-55 lead, capping a 16-4 Georgia Southern run and giving the Eagles their first lead since a 5-4 advantage in the opening minutes. Ferguson had a game-high 21 points and 14 rebounds in the contest.
Elon’s Austin Hamilton finally halted a near-eight minute stretch without a field goal, dumping in a layup with 3:42 on the clock to put Elon back on top, 57-56. Unfortunately, the Eagles used almost all of the shot clock on the next possession before Willie Powers calmly drained a jumper to regain the Georgia Southern advantage, this time for good.
“It all starts on the defensive end of the floor,” Isenbarger said. “We didn’t get the stops we needed to. We got good looks on the offensive end, but we weren’t able to knock down shots. When you aren’t able to make shots, that’s when the defense needs to step up.”
After shooting just 23.5 percent in the first half, Georgia Southern connected on 16-of-27 (59.3 percent) in the second stanza. The Eagles were 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and a near-perfect 11-of-12 from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes. GSU nailed six straight free throws down the stretch to hang on for the win. The Elon offense managed only three field goals over the final 11:26.
“Credit goes to Georgia Southern,” Elon head coach Matt Matheny said. “They hung in there. For them to come here, get down 14 and come away with a win is a credit to them. We need to get better. We played better than we did last week, but we need to stay the course and continue to improve.”
Lucas Troutman added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Phoenix and Hamilton contributed 14 tallies. Ryley Beaumont had a team-best 11 boards.
Georgia Southern’s Ben Drayton shot 7-of-14 for 17 points and Powers dumped in 16 points while dishing out six assists.
Isenbarger provided Elon with a much-needed spark in the first half, beginning and ending a 17-3 Phoenix run with makes from beyond the arc. The guard was 5-of-7 from long range in the contest and scored 11 points during the stretch as Elon took a 21-8 lead midway through the first half.
Despite going relatively quiet from the field for the rest of the half, a couple of Troutman dunks and a strong defensive effort helped the Phoenix to a 33-22 lead at the break.
Isenbarger gave Elon its biggest lead at 41-27 with 16:07 showing on the clock, again checking in and immediately knocking down a triple. The Elon lead hovered in double figures over the next six minutes, but the Eagles continued to make shots and the Phoenix wasn’t able to find the needed run to put Georgia Southern away.
The Phoenix finished 23-of-64 (35.9 percent) from the field and shot under 30 percent from downtown for the third straight game (29.6 percent). The loss was the first of the year on Robertson Court.
Elon will look to rebound when Columbia comes to town for the final non-conference tilt of the year on Sunday, January 8 at 2 p.m. The Phoenix topped the Lions last year on a Chris Long buzzer-beater in New York.