Elon women win the CAA basketball crown, qualifying for a historic first trip to the NCAA tournament
The Phoenix held strong for a convincing 78-60 win over James Madison University in the CAA women’s basketball tournament. The next stop is the NCAA's big dance.
For the first time in Elon’s NCAA Division I era, a Phoenix basketball team is headed to the NCAA tournament. The women’s team swept through the Colonial Athletic Association tournament held in Harrisonburg, Virginia, beating James Madison University 78-60 on its home court, a team that had beaten Elon twice during the regular season.
The entire Elon community is invited to celebrate with the team Monday at 7 p.m. in Alumni Gym, where the pairings for the national tournament will be announced. The first games in the tournament are scheduled Friday and Saturday, March 17-18. The first two rounds, also referred to as the subregionals, will be played at the sites of most of the top 16 seeds, as was done in 2016.
The win over JMU was a game of intensity from the opening buzzer. A large hometown crowd was matched by a loud and boisterous contingent of Elon fans, cheerleaders and band members who cheered on a Phoenix team that came in laser-focused on making history.
“I feel like we’ve been working toward this moment for four years,” said senior Lauren Brown at a post-game news conference. “I’m so humbled and honored to be part of this team – I’m thankful for my teammates and my coach,” Brown said, holding back tears of joy.
Fellow senior Jenifer Rhodes said it was the “best feeling ever” to make Elon history. “It’s indescribable to be with an amazing group of girls that you just love so much,” Rhodes said.
"I'm still pinching myself because this doesn't seem real," said head coach Charlotte Smith. "I'm so extremely proud of this team and the effort that we put forth in every single game throughout this tournament. We met our defensive goals in regards to holding teams under 40 percent. We rebounded the ball well and we shared the basketball all night long. Those were the three things we did an incredible job at the entire tournament."
Smith said she has worked for six years to position her team to be able to feel this kind of success. “It’s something that no one can ever take away from you. You will always be 2017 champions. I believe in this team, I believe in the gifts they’ve been blessed with. It was my responsibility to bring it out of them, even if it was pushing them at times when they didn’t understand. In order to be a champion you always have to stay hungry, you always have to want more and you always have to strive for excellence.”
It was once again a stingy defense efforts and balanced attack on offense that led Elon to victory, its 14th win over the last 15 games. The Phoenix held JMU to 23 percent shooting from the floor, including a 4-of-9 clip from beyond the arc.
Elon put four players in double figures, led by 17 points from the tournament's MVP, Lauren Brown. Brown played all but one minute of the game, going 5-of-12 from the floor.
Elon carried a 16-10 lead after the first quarter, as the Phoenix defense limited the Dukes to 22 percent shooting on 4-of-18 field goal attempts to hold the early lead. The Phoenix went 6-of-12 in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Elon kept up the defensive intensity going into the locker room at the half, as the Phoenix led by 11 points, 36-25. The Phoenix held the Dukes to 21 percent shooting in the opening frame, including a 0-of-5 clip from three. Elon increased its lead to 12 points in the early stages of the third quarter, as a Baucom three-point play gave Elon a 42-30 advantage with 5:12 remaining.
JMU managed to claw back and make it a 13-point game with 4:15 to play. However, the Phoenix held strong down the stretch, holding JMU to a 2-of-11 clip in the final minutes to secure the victory.
As the last seconds of the game clicked down and JMU fans headed to the exits, the team and Elon fans couldn’t contain the excitement. Coach Smith hugged her assistant coaches as the team crumbled into a dogpile at center court with confetti fluttering down from the rafters. Hugs, tears, dancing and screams of elation were everywhere as the team pulled on championship shirts and hats. CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio handed out trophies and posed for pictures with each player on a stage. The team gathered as a group to hold the team championship trophy high. After the ceremony, team members, coaches, trainers and others associated with the team cut down the nets. Among those with that honor were President Leo M. Lambert and his wife, Laurie Lambert, who has been especially close to the team throughout the season and traveled with the team on a study abroad course in 2016.
After taking his turn snipping a piece of the nets, Athletic Director Dave Blank reflected on the importance of this achievement in Elon sports history. “This is a very special thing for our community … I am so proud,” Blank said. “When you achieve a championship like this, it does raise the bar for all our student-athletes. It also adds confidence for our recruiting. But at the end of the day, what is so important to me is the impact of this great accomplishment for these young women. This is something they’ve been dreaming about since they were children.”