By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Trying desperately across the final 12 minutes to avoid any sort of dramatics, the Elon men’s basketball team was left with no choice Monday night.
Rob Higgins delivered.
The graduate transfer guard hurried into position from the backcourt to unleash a game-winning 3-point shot at the buzzer from a few feet beyond the arc in an 82-79 victory against Presbyterian at Schar Center.
Turns out the Phoenix rather enjoyed the thrilling conclusion.
“Coach put me in a good position to make a shot,” Higgins said after the game.
Higgins is a transfer from St. Francis Brooklyn, which shut down its athletics program after the past school year. He said he went 0-for-2 on potential game-winning shots at his former school.
Elon coach Billy Taylor figured the timing for Higgins’ winning shot turned out just right. For Higgins, he knew there was plenty of time for the Phoenix (4-3) when the ball was inbounded with 3.7 seconds showing.
“It was long enough because we’re used to playing at that pace,” Higgins said.
The ball rattled through the rim and Higgins went on a celebratory dash down the court with his teammates in fast pursuit.
Clinging to the lead at 74-68, Elon’s Max Mackinnon drained a 3-pointer and Higgins drove for a basket. Yet an 11-point edge at the two-minute mark wasn’t enough.
Presbyterian’s Carl Parrish sank a corner 3-pointer with 48.1 seconds left, pulling the Blue Hose within 79-77. Higgins then missed a 3 as the shot clock wound down on Elon before Marquis Barnett missed two free throws with 8.1 seconds to play, but Jonah Pierce’s tip-in after two misses evened the score at the 3.7-second mark.
Out of a timeout, Higgins took the inbounds pass, dribbled into the frontcourt and cut to the right for nearly a straight-on look as he elevated for the shot.
“We trust him,” Taylor said.
Elon’s lead was 67-48 with about 12 minutes left. But with 13 of 20 Phoenix turnovers coming in the second half, there were uneasy stretches.
“We think we’re going to keep growing,” guard Zac Ervin said. “We have to learn from nights like tonight.”
Ervin scored 18 points off the bench, hitting four 3s. Higgins and Nick Dorn finished with 14 points each, TK Simpkins added 13 points and nine rebounds and Mackinnon had 11 points.
Ervin racked up nine points in 101 seconds as the Phoenix built a 19-10 lead. It was Dorn’s turn early in the second half, draining three 3-pointers in less than two minutes.
The outcome snapped Presbyterian’s 13-game win streak in the series, including last year’s 69-63 home result.
Presbyterian (5-3), which owns a victory at Vanderbilt and already matched last season’s win total, was picked last in the nine-team Big South Conference preseason poll. Yet the Blue Hose entered the game shortly after posting the best six-game start since joining the Division I ranks in 2008-09.
What once was a 16-point margin in Elon’s favor was reduced to 45-37 at halftime. The Phoenix outscored Presbyterian 14-1 on first-half free throws.
The Blue Hose shot 6-for-18 on foul shots for the game compared to Elon’s 20-for-23.
Elon had been off since November 19, when it wrapped up three games in three days at Rock Hill, South Carolina. There were victories against IUPUI (86-72) and Holy Cross (83-69) and a setback to host Winthrop (78-70). From those games, Simpkins was named the Player of the Week for the Coastal Athletic Association by averaging 15 points per game, while Dorn had a season-high 19 points in the IUPUI game and was dubbed the CAA Rookie of the Week.