ELON, N.C. – The game was reminiscent of last year’s meeting with 13 lead changes and 12 ties, but this time the Columbia Lions came away on top, stealing a 65-60 victory over the host Elon Phoenix in non-conference men’s basketball action from Alumni Gym on Sunday afternoon.
The Lions (11-5) shot 55.6 percent in the second half to overcome a six-point half-time deficit and get the road victory. Elon dropped to 7-7 overall as it heads to Southern Conference play for the remainder of the season.
“We competed today which is a step in the right direction,” said Elon head coach Matt Matheny. “Columbia is a good team that has won 11 of their last 12. They are a confident team; a team with a winning feeling. We are a young team, reliant on young players and right now we are a fragile team. Some of the mistakes we made were based on inexperience and we need a daily focus on improvement.
“Columbia hit some big shots this afternoon. We got some good looks — we have the right guys taking the right shots and they will knock those down.”
An 18-8 Columbia run gave the Lions their first lead of the second half, 48-46, with 9:51 to go. Rookie Austin Hamilton answered for the Phoenix, converting an old-fashioned three-point play on the next possession to regain control, 49-48. With the game tied at 51 and the clock ticking under five minutes, Columbia’s Mark Cisco came up with a big bucket off an offensive board and then scored on the Lion’s next trip down the floor to give the visitor’s a 55-51 lead and force an Elon timeout. Cisco was 9-of-11 for 18 points on the afternoon.
Lucas Troutman tipped the momentum back in Elon’s favor with a thundering dunk out of the timeout and then a hook shot that knotted the game with 3:07 to play. The teams traded baskets before a Brian Barbour jumper put the Lions out in front for the final time. An Elon miss followed by a Cisco slam with one minute remaining put the game nearly out of reach. Columbia nailed four freebies to seal the victory.
Barbour led all scorers with 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Elon had four players in double figures with Hamilton’s 15 leading the way. Troutman had 14 and Ryley Beaumont finished with 10.
Elon was dominant on the glass, holding a 44-31 edge on the boards, including an 18-2 advantage on the offensive end of the floor. Four players had six or more rebounds but Elon managed only 13 second-chance points.
The Phoenix shot under 40 percent for the fifth consecutive game and allowed its opponent to shoot above 40 percent for the fourth time in the last five contests. Elon connected on 26-of-73 (35.6 percent) while Columbia finished shooting 24-of-49 (49 percent). Elon couldn’t get shots to drop from beyond the arc, managing only 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) on the night.
A tightly contested first half saw the lead change hands 10 times. Beaumont forced a Lion miscue that led to a Troutman tip-in and gave the Phoenix a 19-16 advantage with 8:09 on the clock. Columbia answered with a 5-0 stretch from the free throw stripe to regain the lead, but a Jack Isenbarger 15-footer sparked a 15-4 Phoenix run.
Six different Elon players contributed during the run with a Drew Spradlin triple giving the Phoenix its largest lead of the afternoon, 34-25, with 1:07 remaining. Elon carried a 34-28 advantage into the break.
The Phoenix will look to halt a five-game losing streak when it travels to Charleston, S.C. for matchups against The Citadel and College of Charleston. Elon and The Citadel will face off on Thursday, January 12 at 7:05 p.m.