BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Erasing a 13-point second-half deficit to pull within one point in crunch time, the Elon University men’s basketball team’s comeback fell just short in the final moments, as the Phoenix dropped a 62-59 decision at Samford inside the Pete Hanna Center.
Jack Isenbarger completed a four-point play with 1:55 remaining to limit the Bulldogs to a one-point lead when, despite being fouled during his shot, Isenbarger knocked down a three and hit the ensuing freebie to make it a 60-59 game.
Tyler Hood followed up Isenbarger’s play with a pair of free throws to put the Bulldogs back up three, 62-59, with 1:39 left, but Elon had several chances to tie it down the stretch. An Isenbarger three-pointer with 1:12 remaining rimmed out, while Tanner Samson’s long-distance attempt with under 10 seconds left ricocheted off the rim and off a Samford defender out of bounds and back to Elon.
With 5.5 seconds left, Sebastian Koch managed to get off an off-balance three from the wing, but couldn’t get it to fall to send the game to overtime.
Elon moves to 10-11 (3-3 Southern Conference) with the setback, while Samford improves to 9-13 (3-4 Southern Conference) with the win.
“[Samford] got out to an early lead, and with a team as talented as they are, it’s very difficult to spot them that big of an advantage,” said Elon head coach Matt Matheny. “We competed and fought and showed a lot of character and toughness to have a chance late, but we came up just short.”
After Austin Hamilton scored the game’s opening basket, the Bulldogs went on an early 11-0 run to start the game, taking an 11-2 lead with less than 15 minutes remaining until a Ryley Beaumont dunk halted it. Minutes later, Raijon Kelly connected from long distance to push the Bulldogs’ lead to 15-4, forcing an Elon timeout.
But the Phoenix answered, as back-to-back Isenbarger triples made it a four-point game, 22-18, with 9:02 to play and forced the Bulldogs into a timeout. Elon pulled as close as one point, but Samford managed to take a 34-27 lead into the locker room at the break.
Samford had the hot hand in the opening frame, shooting 52 percent (13-of-25) from the field and limiting Elon to 38 percent shooting on 11-of-29 field goal attempts. The Phoenix went 5-of-14 from beyond the arc in the first half, while the Bulldogs knocked down 4-of-9 from three. Tim Williams went for 11 points and eight boards in the first 20 minutes of action, finishing with 19 points and 10 boards.
The Bulldogs forced a Phoenix timeout with 15:49 remaining in the second session after a Kelly jumper off the glass put Elon behind, 45-32, its largest deficit of the game.
Kevin Blake pulled the maroon and gold within five with 10:08 to play after splitting a pair of free throws to make it a 53-48 game.
After the Bulldogs went ahead by 10 points with 7:26 remaining, Beaumont cut the lead in half after a driving to the basket for the bucket to make it a 58-53 game with 6:06 left.
After a Beaumont bucket that cut it to five with 2:35 left, Isenbarger made it a one-point game with 1:55 to play after his four-point play, but that was as close as Elon would come.
Elon shot 39 percent from the field and from three, going 10-of-26 from long range. Tonight snapped a nine-game streak in which Elon was held to less than 10 triples in a game. The Phoenix’s last game with 10 or more threes was at Georgetown on Dec. 17.
Isenbarger, who played a season-high 32 minutes, scored a team-best 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting. All of Isenbarger’s makes came from long distance, as he extended his career three-pointers made total to 241, putting him within striking distance of Chris Kiger’s (1994-98) school record total of 259.
Koch ended the night with six points, both coming off a pair of three pointers, and a team-high seven boards and five assists. Koch now sits at 224 career threes, which ranks third all-time in school history behind Isenbarger and Kiger.
Lucas Troutman ended the evening with eight points and one block, while Samson finished with nine.
Beaumont was the only other Phoenix player in double figures, finishing with 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Beaumont now sits at 973 career points and is looking to join Isenbarger, Troutman and Koch in the 1,000-point club. If Beaumont reaches the career milestone this season, Elon would be the only team in the nation with four 1,000-point scorers on its roster.
Elon returns home on Thursday night, Jan. 30, to battle Western Carolina. Tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. inside Alumni Gym. Watch the game live on Phoenix All-Access or listen live on WPCM 95.1 FM/920 AM.