ELON, N.C. – The Elon University men’s basketball team’s late second-half surge paved the way for a thrilling 85-79 win over William & Mary on Thursday night, Jan. 8, in its Colonial Athletic Association home opener in Alumni Gym.
CAA Preseason Player of the Year Marcus Thornton took the air out of Alumni Gym with 1:08 remaining after burying a three to put the breaks on a Phoenix run and knot the game at 75-all.
But after a quick Tribe timeout, the Phoenix responded on the ensuing possession when Elijah Bryant found Tanner Samson for a deep three near the Elon bench to give the maroon and gold a 78-75 lead it would not relinquish in the waning moments.
Elon improves to 10-6 (2-1 CAA), while William & Mary drops to 8-6 (2-1 CAA).
“I think the crowd made an impact and lifted our team in a lot of areas tonight,” said Elon head coach Matt Matheny. “I thought William & Mary knocked us back a little bit to start the second half with the defenses they were playing. But our guys were able to adapt to some things that we haven’t practiced a lot and made some big shots and enough plays defensively to battle back and get the victory.”
William & Mary nearly made it a one-point game following Samson’s triple, but Omar Prewitt missed an open look and the Phoenix regained possession with the Tribe in a must-foul situation.
Bryant and Samson sunk key free throws down the stretch, as the Phoenix staved off the Tribe for its first CAA home win.
Elon made seven of its last eight field goals, finishing the game 44 percent from the floor, including 12-of-25 (48 percent) from deep.
Bryant continued to shine in his rookie campaign, finishing with a game-high 25 points on six threes and a 7-of-8 performance at the charity stripe. Bryant also hauled down six boards and had six assists.
Samson also connected on six threes, finishing the night with 20 points to go along with eight rebounds. Including several highlight-reel dunks, Kevin Blake and Dmitri Thompson added 10 points each.
Thornton ended the game with 21 points and seven assists, while Terry Tarpey scored a team-high 22 to go with 13 rebounds. Prewitt ended the game with 15 points for the Tribe.
The Phoenix led by as many as 10 points in the opening frame, as a Bryant triple from the top of the key gave the maroon and gold a 34-24 advantage with 2:58 to play.
Christian Hairston helped Elon take a 38-35 lead into the locker room at halftime after putting back a Samson miss from deep. Elon shot 45 percent from the field in the first half, knocking down 15-of-33 from the floor, including 5-of-11 from deep. The Phoenix held the Tribe to 38 percent from the floor, including 6-of-19 from three.
The Tribe came out of the gates in the second half with a quick 5-0 spurt to take a 40-38 lead, forcing the Phoenix into an early timeout.
William & Mary led by as many as seven points with less than seven minutes remaining, but the Phoenix stayed the course and hit big shots in the final minutes to keep the Tribe close and eventually take the lead and win.
Elon resumes league play on Saturday, Jan. 10, at 8 p.m. against Hofstra inside Alumni Gym. The game will again be televised on the American Sports Network.