ELON, N.C. – Elon coach Mike Schrage refers to his Phoenix as a “becoming” team. Schrage inherited a young team in taking over for Matt Matheny before the season, and anticipated some adjustments as his team develops.
For a reasonable stretch of the final game of the mainland portion of the Battle 4 Atlantis Thursday, Schrage saw some signs of what he hopes will be the next stage of that development. UT Arlington prevailed in the end, however, using a 16-2 run to battle back from seven down and put away Elon, 77-67, in the Schar Center.
“I thought our guys competed for a long time. We know we’ve got a group – across the board, not just players, coaches – we’ve gotta learn to win as this group,” said Schrage. “I think the shots and the patience we were showing offensively for a long time kind of went away there down the stretch. Maybe it’s because they started making some shots, too – and some tough shots, to be honest, I give them credit – where it kind of weighed on us to kind of (say), ‘Hey, let’s go make this happen.’
“That’s a really good team we played. We knew that. I thought we competed, for the most part. We’re still learning how to put together a 40-minute game.”
The Mavericks and Phoenix battled through a back-and-forth first half that saw no lead higher than UT Arlington’s six just inside the 12-minute mark. An 8-2 Elon run eliminated that lead and drew the sides level, but miscues on three straight Phoenix possessions enabled the Mavericks to go on a 5-0 burst to pull ahead, 22-17. Back-to-back Kris Wooten treys brought Elon within a point, with the Phoenix eventually retaking the lead with 5:32 remaining in the half. TiAndre Jackson-Young scored the final five points of the stanza, giving the Mavericks a 32-30 advantage at the interval.
Elon (2-6) knocked down just two of its final 10 shots in the first half, but quickly found the mark as the closing 20 commenced. The Phoenix knocked down 3-of-5 to start the period, with forward Simon Wright tallying seven points in the first four minutes. UT Arlington (4-4) saw its own forward, Jabari Narcis, held scoreless in the first half, only to tally five in the half’s opening segment.
The hot string continued for the Phoenix, as Elon parlayed a Marcus Sheffield layup and back-to-back treys by Wright and Hunter McIntosh into an 8-0 run that compelled UT Arlington coach Chris Ogden to request a stoppage with his team trailing, 49-44. After Elon’s run swelled to 10-0, the Mavericks unleashed a 14-0 burst of their own, which finally went by the boards on a Sheffield put-back near the eight-minute mark.
“(They made) tough shots, and then tough shots by us,” said Schrage of the difference during the run. “I thought we really settled, and some of our younger guys (did), which is fine … When we have a young group, I need them to grow. At the same time, we need guys to emerge as scorers and confidence-wise, outside of Sheffield, to be honest.”
“We got a little loose defensively, and they were hitting some tough shots to get them back and eventually put them up,” added Wright. “Give credit to them for hitting their tough shots. (Griffin) hit some tough shots.”
Elon then pulled back within a possession at 60-57 on a Zac Ervin bucket off a back-door cut, but a 9-0 UT Arlington run extended the Maverick lead back to 12. Elon sliced the margin to seven on three Sheffield free throws, but could draw no closer, as UT Arlington outscored Elon, 33-16, following the Ogden timeout.
Sam Griffin paced the Mavericks with a career day, knocking down 8-of-9 tries (3-of-4 from distance) to tally 20 points. David Azore and Jordan Phillips added 11 apiece. Griffin and Azore helped guide UT Arlington to a 46-14 advantage in bench points, which proved significant in the result.
Sheffield led the Phoenix and all scorers with 25 on 8-of-22 from the field. Wright added 10, which all came in the first six minutes of the second half.
Both sides will take the weekend off and resume play Monday. UT Arlington returns home to the College Park Center to host North Texas in an 8:00 (Eastern) start that will be streamed over ESPN+. Elon welcomes Kennesaw State of the ASUN to the Schar Center for a 7:00 Monday start. That game will be viewable on FloSports.