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Hustle, craftiness propel Phoenix to win over Mocs

Elon ends stretch of seven losses in eight games

by Adam Lawson,

Jack Isenbarger picked a good time to notice something wrong in the Chattanooga defense.

With Elon University trailing by a point and just over a minute remaining in the game, the sophomore guard noticed a Mocs defender "sleeping" in the post and threw a pass up to Lucas Troutman.

The sophomore forward didn't see the ball until it was halfway on its path near the basket. It didn't matter. The 6-foot-10 Troutman was able to adjust his body, leap to the ball and put it into the hoop before he landed.

"He's super-athletic," Isenbarger said. "He just went up with his lanky body and got it."

But he didn't have time to celebrate. Chattanooga's Jared Bryant had about a 10-foot head start on Troutman by the time he touched back down onto the court. So with the game on the line, Troutman started running and didn't stop until he swatted Bryant's layup attempt off the backboard and into Isenbarger's hands.

"He ran it 94 feet," coach Matt Matheny said. "We are charting winning plays. That's a winning play."

It was these moments of craftiness and hustle that propelled the Phoenix (9-9, 4-3 Southern Conference) to an 88-87 victory over Chattanooga (9-12, 3-5) Saturday night and ended a stretch of seven losses in eight games.

"The victory is Elon basketball," Matheny said. "It's Elon basketball because we fought. ... We got a choice. Throw in the towel or fight. And our players are going to fight."

The fighting didn't stop after Troutman's block, either. After missing a shot on one end, freshman Austin Hamilton corrected his error on the other. The 5-foot-10 point guard picked the pocket of Chattanooga's Keegan Bell, got fouled and calmly sank both free throws to extend the Phoenix lead.

"On those, you just gotta take your time," Hamilton said. "Just take your time and knock it down and you'll be alright."

After a Z. Mason layup cut Elon's lead to 86-85, Isenbarger went to the line. And like Hamilton, Isenbarger calmly swished both foul shots to put the Phoenix up three.

The Mocs had one last opportunity to retain life. But Bell's 3-pointer was off the mark. A buzzer-beating put-back layup by Ricky Taylor was meaningless and, after three straight home losses, Elon finally came out of Alumni Gym triumphant.

Four Phoenix players scored in double figures. Troutman's 21 points paced the Phoenix. Isenbarger scored 19. Hamilton's 20 points were a career high, as were the 15 Ryley Beaumont put up on a 7-10 shooting night. But after it was all over, Matheny couldn't stop raving about somebody else entirely: his senior leader, Drew Spradlin.

"This is the best I've seen him play," Matheny said. "'cause he fought. Look at his stat line. Five points, two rebounds. And I'm telling you, that's the best game I've ever seen him play. ... He played like Elon players play.

"He made a great sharp pass to Sebastian (Koch), who knocked down a three. Next possession, he made a great pass to Jack, right in the pocket. Jack made a three. And you know what he did on the other end? He defended as well as he could defend."

The victory comes after a skid that included several close, late losses. There was a game they should have won against a 2-7 at the time Dartmouth College team. Then there were the home leads that slipped away against Georgia Southern University and Columbia University. There was the loss Thursday night against Samford University.

But on Saturday night, the Phoenix was finally able to break through and crack the winning side of the ledger, much to the delight of their head coach.

"We lost some tough ones," Matheny said. "and it's easy to get down in that situation. In this victory, although it's one victory, it does give us something to draw from."