By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Now that Elon’s losing streak ended and the Phoenix experienced the good vibes again, maybe there’s an appreciation for what it took to secure a Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball victory.
“It has been a long journey and you’ve seen how these kids have fought,” first-year coach Billy Taylor said. “Although the results haven’t come as quick as we wanted, I think we could see some day this was going to turn for them.”
That happened Saturday afternoon, when the Phoenix led pretty much the entire way in a 72-58 decision against visiting Drexel at Schar Center.
Gone is an 11-game losing streak. Elon enjoyed the first taste of victory since December 11. And, finally, the team captured its first conquering of a Division I opponent this season.
It was time to express joy, even more so than relief.
“Be happy about it, but be hungry for more,” forward Jerald Gillens-Butler said.
Elon is 3-19 overall and 1-8 in the CAA after avenging a defeat from late December.
There had been encouraging stretches the past seven weeks.
“You always have to appreciate anytime you play the right way and you can get the job done,” Taylor said. “There’s nothing given in college basketball or sports in general. … The way we’ve been playing has really, truly been validating itself. We just hadn’t gotten a win yet.”
Drexel (12-10, 6-4) had won the four previous meetings. Recent weeks hadn’t been easy on the Phoenix, the weight of a losing streak.
“Minds sometimes go negative, you wonder if you’re ever going to get a win,” Gillens-Butler said.
Yet it happened. And as the final seconds ticked off, fans showered the Phoenix with appreciation.
“Folks in the community coming out and being supportive, it’s just a credit to our guys,” Taylor said. “We just have really good guys, Humble guys, easy to talk to and be around. We want it to be a community thing and embrace this.”
There were a few shaky moments, particularly when what had been a 16-point lead slipped to five. Drexel’s Justin Moore missed a 3-pointer before Elon’s Max Mackinnon scored the next four points.
Sean Halloran tallied seven of his 18 points in the last four minutes. Gillens-Butler and Mackinnon both posted 14 points and Sam Sherry scored 11. The Phoenix shot 56.3 percent from the field for its best mark of the season against a Division I opponent.
This outcome came 45 hours after Elon’s 82-65 setback to visiting Hofstra.
Aaron Estrada’s career-high 40 points for Hofstra equaled the Schar Center record set last season by Jacksonville State’s Jalen Gibbs and matched by Hofstra’s Omar Silverio last February.
Halloran’s season-high 24 points weren’t enough.
Hofstra won without making a free throw (0-for-1). Tyler Thomas added 23 points, so two players scored nearly as much as the entire Elon team.
Estrada poured in 14 points in the first 9½ minutes, with the Pride leading 19-14. Hofstra led by 11 with less than eight minutes to play in the half, but Halloran’s three-play point pulled the Phoenix even and his basket off a rebound put Elon up 35-33 at halftime.
The Phoenix had a 12-0 stretch by the time it scored on its first possession of the second half.
At 45-45, Hofstra scored the next 10 points. Down 61-49 at the 10-minute mark, Elon climbed back within 63-59 before the Pride pulled away.
Hofstra upset No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday.