ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The Elon University men’s basketball team managed to shake off a pesky UNCG Spartan squad, advancing to the semifinals of the 2013 Southern Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament with a 68-61 victory on Saturday, March 9 at U.S. Cellular Center.
The second-seeded Phoenix (21-10) shot 53 percent in the second half while limiting the tenth-seeded Spartans (9-22) to just 31 percent shooting to survive and advance to the tournament semifinals for the second straight season.
“We’re excited to survive and advance and in many ways we feel like ‘survive’ is the word to characterize the victory,” said Elon head coach Matt Matheny. “I thought we defended for forty minutes with aggression and good preparation. We were able to contest a lot of [UNCG’s] shots, but we were fortunate that they missed some good looks late.”
Lucas Troutman was one of four Phoenix starters in double figures with 14 points while also pulling down 10 rebounds in the victory. Sebastian Koch posted a team-high 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and Ryley Beaumont dumped in 12 points and grabbed eight boards. Jack Isenbarger added 11 points on 3-of-5 from long range, including a critical triple in the waning minutes.
UNCG guard Trevis Simpson netted a game-high 16 points and Kelvin McNeil came off the bench to contribute 10 points. Derrell Armstrong and David Williams had a solid night on the boards with 11 and 10, respectively.
With the teams playing each other for the second time in just eight days, the local rivals needed all 40 minutes to determine the winner. After a tight first half that saw Elon take a slight 31-29 edge into the break, the Phoenix opened the final period on a 10-2 run. Elon pushed the ball in the paint with Troutman and Koch both capitalizing on old-fashioned three-point plays.
The Spartans’ shooting woes were evident as they missed their first six field goals before a Kayel Locke layup halted the drought at the 16:01 mark to make it 39-31 in favor of the Phoenix.
The teams traded a couple buckets before Spartan sharp-shooter Nicholas Paulos nailed back-to-back treys to cut the deficit to six, 46-40, and force an Elon timeout with 11:26 remaining. The Phoenix maintained the advantage, but couldn’t push the lead back to double figures. With 3:51 to play, a McNeil layup trimmed the Elon advantage to four, 58-54.
As the clock ticked under three minutes, Elon freshman Tanner Sampson found Isenbarger at the top of the key. The guard got a friendly shooter’s roll to push the Phoenix back up by seven. The scrappy Spartans didn’t relent, but Elon finished from the free throw line to secure the win.
UNCG outrebounded the Phoenix 46-40, grabbing 15 offensive boards but had trouble converting the second chances into point. Elon got to the line 26 (18-of-26) times compared to only 16 (9-of-16) by the Spartans. UNCG forced 13 Phoenix turnovers but managed only three points off the miscues.
Elon’s 21 wins are the most since the 1973-74 squad went 23-7. The victory over UNCG is the eighth straight for Elon and third this season.
The Phoenix advances to the semifinals to take on the winner of College of Charleston and Western Carolina on Saturday evening at 8:30 p.m.