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Phoenix hopes to rebound after slow start

Russel Varner / Reporter

It’s amazing how one stretch of a game can define a team’s season. While playing against the University of Pennsylvania Quakers, the Phoenix played stifling defense, stole the ball and passed it up to senior Chris Chalko for the wide open dunk. But, just before he could slam the ball in with authority, the referees blew the whistle and called a traveling violation on Chalko.

This is the story of the season so far for the men’s basketball team: sometimes playing great and sometimes very sloppy. The team struggled in its early out of conference schedule that included road games against national powers Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame. Having a relatively inexperienced team does not help either, but this is not a team that likes to make excuses.

“I’m disappointed at the season so far. We’ve played many close games this year and haven’t been able to secure more victories, which is obviously the goal of any team,” coach Ernie Nestor said, who is in his fourth season as head coach of the Phoenix. “You always want to win more games and we have been unable to do that this year for a few different reasons.”

These reasons include inconsistency and injuries—namely the loss of senior leader Montell Watson, who is out for the year with a lower leg injury. The injury is a big loss because the Phoenix not only loses his points and driving ability, but his leadership and spirit as well.

To say this season has been a disappointment is an understatement.. Coming off arguably Elon’s best season ever, many people had high expectations for the Phoenix, and with a 4-12 record (2-4 in the conference), they have not been able to live up to the hype (though the past four losses have all been by four points or less). So why has the team played so streaky and inconsistent this season? Coach Nestor believes he knows a few reasons why.

“First off, we turn the ball over too many times, though we have cut down on them recently,” Nestor said. “But we still turn the ball over at the wrong times. Also, we need to improve our defensive rebounding and limit our opponents’ shots. We are not a great shooting team, so we need to take a lot of shots, and it’s hard to do that when our opponents get so many chances. Finally, we have been unable to handle the pressure this year and we have to learn how to do that. This has made it real difficult for the players to gain confidence and chemistry since we have to switch up our lineup so much because of injuries.”

Many of the players have also noticed this and are growing tired of the close losses.

“We don’t win, so we can’t be satisfied,” senior LeVonn Jordan said. “Our margin of error is slim to none and we really need to start limiting our mistakes. We’ve been too sloppy with the ball all year. All those 1, 2, 3 point losses- limit turnovers and we win those games.”

Sophomore Brett James believes the problem is in their ability to play a full game. “We can’t play a full game. We’ll play well for five or six minutes, then have two or three straight turnovers.”
But not everything has been bad for the Phoenix this year. The injuries have led to increased playing time and roles for freshmen Devan Carter, Adam Constantine, Scott Grable and T.J. Douglas (before his injury).

“We’ve been forced to put a big burden and some of the weight of the team on them. It’s a big challenge to adjust from high school to college,” Nestor said. “They were thrown into the fire and lost some confidence at first, but now they are starting to bounce back.”

Even though the team has had a very slow start this season, that doesn’t mean they are done. Remember, last season the Phoenix started 2-9 before finishing the season 15-14 and winning the North Division title in the Southern Conference.

If the Phoenix can take its weaknesses, such as their defensive rebounding, inside offensive game and ball control, and turn them into their strengths, they can turn their season around and finish the year with their heads held high.