Men’s basketball: Tribe falter in close game against Elon, 76-71

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COURTESY IMAGE/TRIBE ATHLETICS
COURTESY IMAGE/TRIBE ATHLETICS

A strong defensive effort, aided by a clutch three by guard Sheldon Eberhardt, led Elon to claim a victory over William and Mary in a 76-71 Colonial Athletic Association battle. Junior guard Matt Milon tallied 22 points, while junior forward Nathan Knight added 18 and 14 rebounds for the Tribe (7-12, 3-4 CAA). Junior forward Justin Pierce did not make a field goal as the Phoenix (6-14, 2-5 CAA) scored the last nine points in the game to steal a win in Williamsburg.

“We’ve got to have all three of [Milon, Knight and Pierce] play well,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “They don’t have to be sensational, they just have to play. They have to give us good, quality play on both sides of the ball, and it wasn’t there for Justin tonight. He’s been really good all year, but to be good, all three guys have to play at a high level for us.”

The Phoenix, having won just two of their last 12 games, came into the contest in last place in the CAA. Without the services of redshirt senior forward Paul Rowley, having lost freshman guard Thornton Scott to an injury in the first half, Elon wore down the Tribe. Eberhardt put the Phoenix ahead for good with one minute and nine seconds left to play.

“The little things in the game win and lose ball games, and I could point to a half-dozen things immediately,” Shaver said.

The Tribe got off to a hot start offensively. Freshman guard Chase Audige started the game with five quick points before the Phoenix answered with two straight triples. Knight then took over, scoring the next six for the College to enter the first media timeout tied at 11.

Three-point shooting for the Phoenix again pulled them into the lead, as treys by guard Kris Wooten and forward Tyler Seibring made it 17-11. Two free throws by freshman guard LJ Owens stemmed the tide, and a three by freshman forward Quinn Blair with 11 minutes and two seconds left in the first half knotted the game at 21.

Elon’s bruising defensive style began to take its toll on the Tribe as the half wound down. A streak of nine consecutive missed field goals for the College was broken by a leaning jumper by Milon with a little more than a minute to play. Just seconds later, Blair nailed one from downtown to give the Tribe the lead, 36-34. Seibring would hit two from the charity stripe, and the game would go into the half in a 36-all stalemate.

The second half continued the plodding pace that characterized much of the first until, with 13:57 left in the game, Audige took three dribbles from the left wing, cocked the ball back and flushed it, kicking off a personal 8-2 run to give the College some breathing room. The spurt was highlighted by Audige elevating on the fast break to finish an alley-oop from Loewe.

The Tribe would build its lead, as four Knight points as well as a pair of foul shots by Pierce gave the Tribe its largest advantage of the day at 55-47. Seibring and the Phoenix did not go away, however, answering with a 10-2 stretch to tie the game at 57. With 8:20 to play, guard Steven Santa Ana finished a driving layup at the rim, giving Elon its first lead of the half.

Milon would hit a three following a timeout to stop the run, but Elon scored the next six points, gaining a 65-60 lead. The Tribe jumped right back into it, as Milon sunk an awkward fade-away from the free throw line before Knight made two free throws. Milon then gave the Tribe the lead back on a feed from Knight, powering to the rim off a backdoor cut. Elon took the advantage back on a goaltend by Knight, but Loewe completed a tough three-point play, making it 69-67 Tribe with a little more than a minute left.

Following a timeout, Milon’s three-pointer rimmed out, but Knight got the offensive rebound and finished to push the lead to four. Eberhardt quickly responded for Elon with a layup, and when the Tribe couldn’t convert on the next possession, Eberhardt hit a dagger of a three, giving the Phoenix a 72-71 lead with 1:09 to play.

“[Eberhardt] was the difference in the ball game,” Shaver said. “I thought we defended Santa Ana well, Seibring played well, made some tough shots at times, but Eberhardt was the key to the ball game.”

Pierce, who finished the game with just two points, missed a three off the back rim moments later. The Tribe elected to play defense instead of fouling with 38 seconds left down by one and forced Eberhardt to miss a long jumper, but Santa Ana secured the rebound for Elon. The Tribe, now forced to foul, sent Santa Ana to the free throw line, who sunk both with nine seconds to go. Milon missed a desperate three on the Tribe’s last second attempt to tie, and the Phoenix would add two more free throws in a 76-71 victory over the College.

The Tribe will look to bounce back on the road at North Carolina-Wilmington Thursday, before traveling to the College of Charleston Saturday.