GREENSBORO, N.C. – Elon University men’s basketball fought fifth-ranked Duke to the wire but came up just short Wednesday night, Dec. 21, inside Greensboro Coliseum in falling 72-61 to the Blue Devils.
“We are proud of the effort our guys played with,” said Elon head coach Matt Matheny. “I am very impressed with the way our players prepared the two days of practice going into the game and we played reflective of how we prepared. Our scouting report was very good and our players listened and executed the scouting report well. Defensively, we crowded some of their penetration and had good hands in lanes. We contested a lot of their shots and to hold a great offensive team to under 40 percent shooting is a goal of ours. Our defense played well enough to win and offensively we did some good things in transition. Overall, we got better tonight.”
For the second game in a row, Brian Dawkins led the Phoenix with 18 points in 27 minutes. He missed his first-career double-double by one rebound in finishing with nine rebounds, tying his career-high for the second time this season. Steven Santa Ana was the only other Elon player to reach double-figures, finishing with 11 points.
The Phoenix outrebounded Duke 42-37 throughout the game, including an 18-14 margin in the second half after pulling down 24 boards to Duke’s 23 in the first 20 minutes.
In outrebounding Duke, Elon is the first team that is not from a Power 5 conference to outrebound the Blue Devils since Yale in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament (42-28) and the first during the regular season since Long Beach State on Dec. 30, 2015 (42-31).
The Blue Devils were led by a game-high 21 points by Luke Kennard with 18 points from Jayson Tatum and 13 from Amile Jefferson.
After Duke jumped out to a 5-0 lead, Elon answered with points on four of five possessions with a free throw by Tyler Seibring, a three-pointer from Santa Ana, a layup from Dmitri Thompson and a three from the top of the key by Dawkins to go on a 9-0 run. Though Tatum ended the run with a layup, Dawkins answered with another three from the left side to give Elon a 12-7 lead.
With Elon leading by two after a Luke Kennard three, back-to-back buckets by Seibring and Karolis Kundrotas extended Elon’s lead to its largest of the night at 16-10. Though Duke cut it back down to one at 16-15, Luke Eddy knocked down a three in front of the Duke bench to go up 19-15.
After Eddy’s three, Duke answered with an 17-5 run to go up 32-24 but Elon answered nicely with a 6-0 run fueled by Santa Ana hitting 3-of-4 free throws after a Duke technical and personal foul and another Dawkins three to cut it to just two at 32-30 with 3:45 to go in the half. Following two Kennard free throws, Thompson knocked down a three from the right corner and Dainan Swoope followed with a fast-break layup to give Elon a 35-34 lead at the half.
Out of the break, the two sides went back and forth as Duke took a 41-39 lead with 16:45 to play after a Seibring jumper. From there, the Blue Devils went on an 18-5 run to take a 59-44 lead. Elon responded with a 7-0 run behind a layup by Sheldon Eberhardt and five-straight points from Dawkins to make it 59-51 with 9:16 to play, but it was as close as the Phoenix would get as Duke flexed its muscles and continued to pull away with a 13-4 run to go up by 17 at 72-55, its largest margin of the evening.
– Elon’s 35-34 lead at halftime was the best margin for the Phoenix under Matheny against a nationally-ranked opponent. The previous best margin came against No. 1 Duke 20, 2012, when Elon trailed by eight (35-27) inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.
– Duke missed its final 10 shots from the floor in the first 20 minutes with the final field goal of the half coming with 5:23 to go.
– Elon went on an 11-2 run in the final 4:15 of the first half to take the lead into the locker room.
– Dawkins tied his career-high in rebounds for the second time this season, the first coming Dec. 6 against UNC Asheville. He also led Elon in scoring for the fifth time this season.
– The 11-point defeat is the second-smallest margin of victory for a ranked team against Elon in the team’s time as a Division I program. The smallest margin came against No. 15/16 UMass on Jan. 18, 2014, an 84-74 loss at Alumni Gym.
– The 11-point loss is also the closest final margin against a Mike Krzyzewski-coached Duke team in Elon’s Division I history. The previous margin was a 13-point loss on Dec. 15, 2014, in Durham, N.C. against then-No. 2 Duke.
Elon returns home for the final nonconference matchup of the season on Wednesday, Dec. 28, against Central Pennsylvania. The matchup, set for 8 p.m., is the second leg of an Elon basketball doubleheader with the women’s team taking on King inside Alumni Gym at 5:30 p.m.