ASHEVILLE, N.C. – In what was a thrilling finish, the Elon University men’s basketball team used clutch free throw shooting and strong defense in the final three minutes to earn a hard-fought 86-81 road victory against UNC Asheville on Monday night, Dec. 21 at Kimmel Arena.
Seven Elon (9-3) players finished in double figures against the Bulldogs. Elon was paced by Christian Hairston’s third-career double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. Tanner Samson and Luke Eddy each finished with a team-high 14 points, Dainan Swoope scored 13, Steven Santa Ana notched 12, and Dmitri Thompson and Tyler Seibring tallied 10 points apiece.
UNC Asheville (7-5) was led by Will Weeks and Kevins Vannatta as they each scored a game-high 16 points. Dwyane Sutton recorded a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Elon opened the game with a 9-4 run in the first two and a half minutes for the early advantage. UNC Asheville would respond with two 10-0 runs to eliminate Elon’s five point lead. The Bulldogs recorded their first 10-0 to take a 14-9 lead at 15:06.
After Elon brought it back to a one-point game at 20-19 with 11:28 left in the half, UNC Asheville pulled out another 10-0 run to take an 11 point lead 30-19 at the 7:58 mark in the half.
Elon responded using a 20-8 surge over final 7:50 in the half to take a slim 39-38 lead heading into halftime.
Thompson threw down a massive dunk to start the second half to extend Elon’s lead 41-38.
In a back-and-forth affair in the second stanza, Elon pulled out to its largest lead of the game 62-56 with 11:28 to go after a Samson layup. The Bulldogs would then tie the game back up 67-67 and 69-69 with just over seven minutes to play.
The Phoenix surged out to a 77-72 lead with 3:13 to play following a Seibring 3-pointer. UNC Asheville brought it back within one 78-77 with 1:53 left, but Hairston made a big layup with 1:43 remaining to give Elon an 80-77 cushion.
The Bulldogs failed to make a bucket from behind the arc, but an Elon miss and foul sent the host to the free throw line with 29 seconds remaining. Two free throws by Dylan Smith made it 80-79, but Seibring went to the line and hit two of his own to make it 82-79 with 15 ticks on the clock.
Eddy came up with a huge rebound with five seconds to play and made both free throws. Samson hit another pair with one second left, and the Phoenix held on for the big road win, 86-81, against UNC Asheville.
– Head coach Matt Matheny ties Bill Morningstar for sixth all-time in career victories with his 101st win tonight.
– Elon is off to its best 12-game start since the 1990-91 season. That team started the season 14-2 overall.
– Longest streak of six since Elon went on an eight game win streak in 2013-14.
– The Phoenix are 3-2 in true road game to start the year, the first time the Phoenix have done so during the Matheny era and first time in the program’s Division I era.
– Elon has scored at least 80 points in five of its last seven games, and three of its last four.
After Elon takes a short break for the holidays, the Phoenix will head to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday, Dec. 28, to take on the Duke Blue Devils for an 8 p.m. tip on ESPNU. Elon will be back at home on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, as they host Northeastern to open conference play at Alumni Gym at 2 p.m.