Monday, February 26, 2024

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Elon men seek new heights as CAA slate approaches

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

Elon has turned in enough interesting results so far this men’s basketball season that the Phoenix should take a good vibe into Coastal Athletic Association play.

The Phoenix finished non-conference action with Friday afternoon’s 82-78 victory against Valparaiso at Schar Center.

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“We got contributions all the way around,” coach Billy Taylor said. “We needed every bit of it.”

Elon basketball coach Billy Taylor

The latest exercise for Elon came without its leading scorer and the constant dodging of second-half speed bumps. Yet there was evidence of a team that might be rounding into form.

“We looked like an older team closing it,” guard Rob Higgins said. “I’m just hoping we can continue to grow.”

Higgins scored 19 points and made six steals, Max Mackinnon posted 16 points and the Phoenix overcame starting center Sam Sherry’s foul trouble and Valparaiso’s 13 offensive rebounds.

Elon (7-6) defeated a Division I team for the first time in more than a month. This one came after a 17-point advantage in the opening minute of the second half nearly disappeared.

“It’s nice to be in that position where now we can kind of be critical of such a big lead and giving it up,” Taylor said. “Where last year, we were never in that position. So I think it’s all about perspective.”

For Mackinnon, the Valparaiso game was the kind of tussle that the Phoenix should expect the next couple of months.

“This is the type of conference game you’re going to get,” he said.

Valparaiso (4-9), which lost its seventh game in a row, got within 68-66 before Elon racked up eight points in 11 seconds. Sherry scored on a move in the post but missed a free throw. Elon rebounded, resulting in LA Pratt’s 3-pointer. Higgins stole the ball near midcourt and stormed in for a layup as part of a three-point play.

Elon scoring leader TK Simpkins (12.3 points per game) was in a walking boot after suffering an ankle injury in practice earlier in the week. Zac Ervin made his first start of the season in his place.

“When you take a double-digit scorer out of your lineup and still able to win, I think is a strong statement for our ballclub and the depth that we have and how guys are coming along,” Taylor said.

The Phoenix burst to a 27-13 lead. By then, Elon reserves were making impacts as part of the team’s 32-2 edge in bench scoring.

Nick Dorn racked up 11 points, Pratt produced 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds, Isaac Harrell posted eight points in nine minutes and Kendall Campbell was disruptive, including blocking three shots.

Elon, which is one victory shy of its 2022-23 total, opens its CAA schedule Thursday night at William & Mary. The CAA home opener comes two nights later vs. North Carolina A&T.

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