In a conference season that has been defined by close games, the opening game of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament (CAA) went into overtime with Elon coming out on top of Towson by a 74-69 margin. Neither team led by more than six points the entire game; in addition the second half featured 10 lead changes and nine ties. Towson scored the final four points of regulation to send the game into overtime tied at 62.
Back to back threes by the Phoenix’s Tanner Samson and Austin Hamilton broke open a 64-64 tie in the extra stanza to seemingly put Elon in control 70-64 with 2:21 remaining. Towson cut the lead to three points in the final minute on two baskets by Four McGlynn but couldn't get any closer.
Elon got a steal from Hamilton with 20 seconds to play that led to a breakaway dunk by Kevin Blake giving it a 72-67 lead that sealed the win with: 17 to play.
The game was a battle of contrasts from the start, featuring Elon’s long range shooting against the rebounding efforts of Towson. Elon shot a blistering 54 percent on 3-pointers in the first half, making 7 of 13. CAA Rookie of the Year Elijah Bryant of Elon hit on 3 of 5 from beyond the arc, on the way to registering 14 of his game high 21 points.
Towson came into the game with a CAA best 14 offensive rebounds per game. The Tigers nearly reached that total in the first half, pulling down 11 boards that led to a 15-0 advantage in second chance points. After an apparent basket by Towson’s A.J. Astroth at the buzzer was waived off by the referees after review, Towson went into the half trailing 33-32.
Elon coach Matt Matheny said limiting Towson on the offensive boards in the second half was a big key for the Phoenix.
"They had eleven offensive boards that really balanced it out," he said. "So we came out in the second half and they end up with fifteen. So we limited them to four in the half and overtime. I think that was the big difference in the game."
The Phoenix equaled a season high of 13 3-pointers on 29 attempts for 44.8 percent. Bryant made 4 of 9 from long range despite feeling a bit of nervous in his first postseason game as a collegian.
"I would definitely say there were a bit of nerves, coming out here into this big stadium," Bryant said. "But I just tried to talk a lot during warm-ups and talk to my guys to calm me down."
In addition to the expected clutch shooting of Bryant, the Phoenix got a huge performance off the bench in the form of freshman Collinn Luther who scored a season high 11 points (3-for-3 on 3-pointers) in just 16 minutes of action.
Elon came into the tournament as the number eight seed in the ten team field. At one point during the conference season the Phoenix lost eleven out of twelve games, before finishing off the regular season with three consecutive wins to come in the tournament with the longest win streak of any team in the league.
"We went through a pretty tough stretch during the regular season with injuries and some lineup changes," Matheny said. "But through it all our guys really stuck together. So as coaches we felt pretty good about our chances to come out of it."
Elon will have another chance to prove its resiliency on Saturday when they play No. 1 seed William and Mary at noon, just about 16 hours after its victory over Towson.
The Tigers who started three freshman most of its last 11 games, finished a disappointing 12-20 on the season after getting off to a 7-1 start in December. They were led by freshman Mike Morsell's 18 points.