ELON, N.C. – There is still a debate over whether he called it, but either way, Austin Hamilton’s game-winning three-pointer banked in with two seconds on the clock to lift the Elon men’s basketball team to a 51-48 victory over Navy in Saturday afternoon non-conference action from Alumni Gym.
“Good teams find ways to win,” said Hamilton after the shot dropped through the net. “You have to play 40 minutes and if you keep fighting, good things will happen.”
With Elon trailing 46-43 with under two minutes to play, senior Drew Spradlin came up with a big steal and then finished the Phoenix (5-2) possession by knocking down his only three-pointer of the game to tie with score with 1:36 on the clock.
After the Phoenix forced another Navy (3-6) turnover, sophomore Lucas Troutman put Elon back on top, 48-46, with a layin in the lane with 49 ticks remaining. Two freebies from J.J. Avila at the other end tied the game for the 10th time of the afternoon and the Phoenix was poised to hold for the final shot with less than a second difference between the game clock and shot clock.
As the seconds ticked below 10, Hamilton began to run the offense. A slight bobble on Hamilton’s pass by Jack Isenbarger as he came around the wing forced him to put it back in Hamilton’s hands on the left side. Knowing time was running out, Hamilton hoisted the shot from well beyond the three-point line and dropped in the playground shot that every kid dreams about.
“Normal in college basketball is abnormal,” laughed Elon head coach Matt Matheny. “This was a tough game against a well-coached team. Navy outfought us for a good part of 40 minutes and that is what made it so close. We got stops and made plays to win this game on the defensive end of the floor. Good teams are able to pull out victories like that and this is a very good victory for us.”
Elon improved to 5-2, matching the best start since 1996-97. The last time a Phoenix team scored 51 or fewer points in a victory was a 50-48 defeat of Western Carolina on January 21, 2006 en route to a Southern Conference North Division Championship.
It was a grind-it-out, defensive contest as the Phoenix posted its best defensive effort of the year by holding the visitors to 14-of-51 (27.5 percent) from the field, including a 4-of-21 (19.0 percent) mark from beyond the arc. Elon forced 18 turnovers and scored 20 points off those miscues.
Isenbarger led the Phoenix, coming off the bench for 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He also added four rebounds and three assists. Spradlin and Hamilton each added nine points and Ryley Beaumont grabbed a team-best five rebounds. Avila was the lone Navy player in double figures with 14 tallies, netting a perfect 8-of-8 from the charity stripe.
Poor shooting haunted both teams, especially in the first half as neither squad could muster more than seven buckets. Elon opened the game on a 10-2 run that spanned the first five minutes, but then managed only 10 more points for the remainder of the half.
After Navy clawed to within one, 12-11, the teams combined for only four field goals over the last 9:20 and the Phoenix clung to a 20-17 edge at the break.
The Mids drained back-to-back triples, the second coming from Worth Smith to give Navy its first lead of the game, 28-26, with 14:04 to play. The lead changed hands five more times before the final buzzer. After Isenbarger nailed consecutive treys to push Elon ahead, 38-35, Isaiah Roberts sent up a prayer from beyond the arc at the shot clock buzzer to tie the contest at 38 with 6:50 remaining. Elon would hold Navy without a field goal for the remainder of the game, setting up the last-second win.
Elon will have a very quick turnaround as it gets back to SoCon play on Monday night with its first road league game of the year at UNCG. Tip is scheduled for 7 p.m.