TOWSON, Md. – Junior guard Shay Burnett connected on a contested layup with 3.6 seconds left on the road against Towson inside SECU Arena to lift Elon University women’s basketball to a 67-65 victory over the Tigers Sunday afternoon, Feb. 26.
The Phoenix (23-6, 15-2 CAA) trailed by as many as seven in the second half, marking the most Elon has trailed in the final 20 minutes of a CAA game this season that it has come back to win. The 15th CAA win of the season also marks the most conference wins Elon has amassed in a single season as a Division I program, topping the 14 Southern Conference wins in 2012-13.
“We knew this would be a game of runs and we couldn’t get too high with the high and too low with the lows,” said Elon head coach Charlotte Smith. “I felt like we did a good job of mentally staying in the game. Shay struggled a little bit, but she’s our go-to player so we had to get it in her hands. We drew up a play we executed to perfection. It’s a play we had never run this season but we felt like it was a great opportunity to isolate and force the switch and she did a good job of penetrating and getting to hoop.”
Burnett finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes, but Elon was led by Jenifer Rhodes’ excellent afternoon with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Malaya Johnson also added 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with eight rebounds. Essence Baucom’s 13 points and six rebounds rounded out Elon’s double-figure scorers. Elon’s starters combined for 60 of the team’s 67 points.
Towson (12-16, 5-12 CAA) was led by game-high 22 points from Raven Bankston. Sianni Martin added 15 points and six rebounds while Maia Lee went 5-for-6 from the field for 10 points.
Towson opened the afternoon with a three-pointer, but Baucom answered on the following possession with a three-pointer of her own that keyed a 13-3 Elon run to force a Tiger timeout with 5:15 left in the opening quarter. Out of the stoppage, Towson went on an 8-2 run to cut the lead to just one with 2:46 to go, but three layups down the stretch helped Elon rebuild its lead heading the second quarter up 21-16.
Midway through the second, Elon extended its lead to as many as nine for the third time on the afternoon, but the Phoenix went cold from the floor with its last field goal coming from Johnson with 4:51 to go. Down the stretch, Towson went on a 12-3 run to erase the nine-point deficit to even things up at 37-all at halftime.
Powered by a Rhodes jumper, a Burnett three-pointer and a Johnson putback, Elon opened the second half with a quick 7-0 burst in the opening 1:24 to take a 44-37 lead. Towson answered, though, with a 17-3 run to take a 54-47 lead with 3:16 to go in the quarter. An 8-0 Elon run in the final 1:59 of the quarter via four free throws and two layups put Elon back on top 55-54 through three.
Throughout the fourth quarter, neither side pulled more than two points ahead with the game seeing four lead changes and five ties. In the final minutes, Bankston hit a layup and was fouled. With the ensuing free throw, she gave Towson a 65-64 lead with 2:27 to play. With 37 seconds to play, Baucom drove the bucket and was fouled. The senior knocked down 1-of-2 free throws to tie things up at 65.
Following a Towson timeout after Baucom’s free throw, Bankston lost the ball with 8.8 seconds to play and Burnett jumped on it to give the Phoenix the ball. After a timeout to draw up a play, Lauren Brown inbounded to Burnett and the junior rounded the three-point arc before cutting inside for the contested layup with 3.6 seconds to play. Burnett was aided by a Rhodes screen that allowed her to turn the corner and convert the game-winner.
– Johnson, Baucom and Rhodes combined for 29 of Elon’s 37 first-half points with Johnson’s 13 leading the way.
– Rhodes’ 18 points fell three short of her career high 21. That was set back on Feb. 8, 2015, against College of Charleston. Her eight field goals also fell one short of her career mark.
– Elon finishes the regular season with 11 road victories. It’s the most in its Division I program history and beats the eight road wins in 2015-16, 2014-15 and 2010-11.
– Towson honored seniors Raven Bankston and Brianna Bush prior to Sunday’s game. Both players picked up three first-half fouls but neither fouled out down the stretch.
CAA Seeding Scenarios
– Elon is guaranteed one of the top two seeds in the CAA Tournament, set to start March 8 in Harrisonburg, Va. Elon’s run at the title will start Thursday, March 9, after its first-round bye.
– The Phoenix will be the No. 2 seed in the tournament should James Madison win Sunday afternoon against William & Mary and Wednesday night against College of Charleston.
– Should JMU lose either game and the Phoenix wins Wednesday night, Elon would be the outright CAA regular season champion.
– Elon has never won a Division I regular season championship. The closest it’s come was second-place finishes in 2000-01, 2001-02 and 2002-03 in Big South action. Since, Elon has finished third just once in 2012-13 as a member of the Southern Conference.
– Of note, Elon has finished fourth or better in conference play each of the last seven seasons dating back to 2010-11.
In the regular-season finale on Wednesday, March 1, Elon will host UNCW at 7 p.m. looking to clinch at least a share of the CAA regular-season championship.