Omar Prewitt dunks William & Mary into CAA semifinals

Omar Prewitt powered top-seed William & Mary past Elon and into the CAA Tournament semifinals. Photo Credit: William & Mary athletics
Omar Prewitt powered top-seed William & Mary past Elon and into the CAA Tournament semifinals. Photo Credit: William & Mary athletics

Omar Prewitt says the heartbreak of William & Mary’s loss to Delaware in last year’s CAA championship did not hit him initially.

The sophomore says he looked at the Tribe’s distraught seniors in the locker room after the loss and didn’t understand how much the win would have meant to the only CAA program to never make the NCAA tournament.

After scoring 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting in the Tribe’s 72-59 win over Elon in the second round of the CAA tournament on Saturday, it’s clear he now gets it.

“We can’t be a great team unless Omar plays well,” coach Tony Shaver said. “He’s that important to us.”

Prewitt wasn’t the only member of the Tribe who came to play.

CAA Player of the Year Marcus Thornton led the team in scoring with 17 points and Daniel Dixon contributed 12 points on 4 of 9 shooting from behind the arc.

Defensive Player of the Year Terry Tarpey had another great all around game with eight points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.

“We got Terry, we got the MVP on our team but Omar takes us to a new level if he’s playing well,” Shaver said.

Prewitt had struggled at the tail-end of the regular season with a shooting percentage of just 26 percent in the Tribe’s last three games. The last of those three was the 80-66 loss to the Damion Lee-less Drexel Dragons.

“If one of us is off, it really hurts,” Prewitt said. “I wouldn’t say I’m the key factor but if I’m not playing as well, it really hurts our team a lot.”

However, during a stretch in the second half on Saturday, Prewitt was they key for the Tribe.
Elon, down by 13 with just over 14 minutes to play in the half, went with a zone defense in an attempt to stop the hot-shooting Tribe.

Seconds later, Prewitt put his head down and earned a bucket on a hard drive to push the lead to 50-35.

After an Elon score, Prewitt again drove to the basket and scored.

“He was the one player during that stretch when they went zone, who really drove for us and got a couple easy baskets,” Shaver said.

At the nine minute mark, Omar turned a Sean Sheldon steal into a dunk that would have made Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell and all of the Low Rises shake and crumble.

He’s improved that physical side of his game since his Rookie of the Year campaign last year.
According to his teammates, Prewitt hit the gym this off-season with a determination to get stronger and expand his skill set.

“That helped improve his overall game and his decision making is getting better,” said Tarpey. “It’s just great to have a player like him on your team.”

It is that mental strength that has impressed Thornton the most.

“Each year the game kind of slows down for you a little bit,” Thornton said. “He sees the floor better, sees certain things he wouldn’t of seen last year.

“Just his overall improvement as a player, I’m really proud of him and it’s great to see the way he played today.”

Elijah Bryant, Elon, pound the rock, survive CAA Tournament opening round

Elon freshman Elijah Bryant. Photo credit: Elon Athletics
Elon freshman Elijah Bryant. Photo credit: Elon Athletics

Baltimore, MD — Elijah Bryant wouldn’t let any pregame jitters shake him up in the first CAA tournament game of his career.

Hours after winning the 2015 CAA Rookie of the Year, Bryant scored 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting to lead the No. 8 Phoenix to a 74-69 overtime win over No. 9 Towson under the bright lights of Royal Farms Arena.

“Elijah is big time, man,” said senior point guard Austin Hamilton, who had 12 points and seven assists. “He really got Rookie of the Year for a reason.”

Nobody knows how a freshman will react to playing in the post season, especially when that rookie is going from Elon’s Alumni Gym that sits 1,585 to a arena sitting 14,000.

But instead of hiding his anxiety, Bryant voiced it to his senior leaders in shoot-around and pregame meetings.

“I tried to talk a lot during warm ups and talk a lot to my guys just to calm me down and make it feel more like home,” Bryant said.

The comfort of being at home has been key to Bryant’s success throughout the season. His family, who lives in Georgia, attended every Elon home game this year – and most of his road games.
And his second family made sure he was comfortable on Friday.

“That goes hand-in-hand with Austin [Hamilton], Kevin [Blake], our leaders, and how they’ve created an environment of a family,” said first-year coach Matt Matheny. “That helps you alleviate the stress and I think Elijah relied on that.”

The environment must have been sufficient, as Bryant came out on fire and had 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first half. He was one of only two players to hit double figures in the first half. However, the Phoenix only went into the half up one point.

But a rough season has taught Bryant to continuously “pound the rock” a team phrase meaning to persevere.

“We pound the rock and we also try to do the little things,” said Bryant. “Even if we’re not winning the game, it will build up and ultimately get us a win like this.”

Bryant wasn’t alone in the win. Four other players on the team scored in double figures.
And it was those players, whom Bryant credited for his Rookie of the Year award.

“I just put the award all to my teammates,” said Bryant. “Without them, I couldn’t have done it.”

Awards — OBW CAA men’s basketball Third Team All-Conference

OBW CAA men’s basketball Third Team All-Conference

Northeastern point guard T.J. Williams. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Northeastern point guard T.J. Williams. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Kyle Anderson, SR, G, Delaware
After sitting out the first seven games of the season, Anderson became a consistent scoring presence for a Delaware team that has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season. The senior scored in single digits in just two games played this year and made a 3-pointer in all but two games. He averaged 14.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 2.0 APG.

TJ Williams, SO, PG, Northeastern
The Texas-native followed up an impressive rookie campaign with an outstanding sophomore season. With one of the best starting lineups in the league, it can be hard to score the basketball while facilitating but Williams took ownership of his role as coach Bill Coen’s point guard. He improved in scoring (10.4 PPG), assists (3.4 APG) and rebounds (3.7 PPG) and had a season-high 20 points against Richmond.

Daniel Dixon, SO, G, William & Mary
He made William & Mary history when he went a perfect 6 for 6 from behind the arc but Dixon’s most important contribution to the Tribe might be his perimeter defense. When he sat out five games towards the end of the season, the Tribe gave up 70-plus points three times and suffered losses to Delaware and Northeastern. Dixon, averaging 11.3 PPG on 45 percent shooting from the field and 46 percent shooting from behind the arc, was the perfect compliment to Marcus Thornton.

Kory Holden, FR, G, Delaware
Without Holden, Delaware is in last place and Kyle Anderson is one unhappy senior. The Maryland-native was outstanding for coach Monte Ross and despite his young age, he quickly emerged as a leader for the Blue Hens. The point guard averaged 12.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 5.0 APG, good for second best in the CAA.

Elijah Bryant, FR, G, Elon
The future is bright for the Phoenix with the versatile Elijah Bryant leading the way. If that wasn’t evident when he had 32 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes against Drexel, maybe it was in the last two games of the season when he led his team to wins over two of the four CAA regular season champs; Northeastern and UNC-Wilmington.

Awards — OBW CAA men’s basketball All-Rookie Team

Rokas Gustys
Rokas Gustys

OBW CAA men’s basketball All-Rookie Team
Kory Holden, PG, Delaware

Devon Saddler who? The future is bright for the Blue Hens with Holden at the helm, who showed his maturity by ranking second in the CAA in assists (5.0 per game). He also showed he can light up the score board – just ask the top teams in the CAA.

Elijah Bryant, G, Elon
Whether he’s running the one, two or three position, Bryant always seemed to control the Phoenix’s tempo with poise. He showed his all-around game in the last three games of the season, in wins against Delaware, Northeastern and UNC-W. Bryant scored in the double figures and pulled down at least eight rebounds in the wins.

Jordon Talley, G, UNC-W
Talley handled the pressure of being on a contending team beautifully and showed he wasn’t afraid to have the ball in late game situations. His most impressive performance came against fellow contender Northeastern, when he erupted for 21 points at Matthews Arena.

Rokas Gustys, C, Hofstra
The Lithuanian big man will bring toughness to the CAA for years to come. He struggled to adjust to the different hand-checking rules and got into foul trouble early in the season but came into his own towards the end of conference play. The big man’s defensive presence in the paint may just be just as important as their dynamic backcourt in the conference tournament.

Dmitri Thompson, F, Elon
The rookie showed signs of potential for a young Elon team. He came up big against top teams, recording 10 points against William & Mary and 12 points and five rebounds against Northeastern. Thompson averaged 6.1 PPG and 3.7 APG.

Upset alert? Elon men’s basketball peaking at the right time

Elon freshman Elijah Bryant. Photo credit: Elon Athletics
Elon freshman Elijah Bryant. Photo credit: Elon Athletics

Elon, N.C. — After Elon’s 72-65 upset victory over the Huskies on Thursday, freshman Dmitri Thompson had a message for the CAA.

“Just watch out,” said the guard. “I feel like if we keep on playing that way, we’re going to be alright.”

The win over the Northeastern, who came into Thursday’s contest as the No. 1 seed, gives the Phoenix its first win streak since early January, when they rode a four game streak into the New Year.

The team couldn’t of picked a better time to pick up some momentum.

“It’s a perfect time,” said Thompson, who had 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting and five rebounds. “Going into the tournament, all it takes is someone getting hot and hopefully we can be the ones that get hot.”

It was players like Thompson, who came off the bench,that made the difference in the contest. Elon’s bench outscored Northeastern’s subs 25-8.

Only two Huskies scored in double figures; Scott Eatherton with 20 points and David Walker with 17. Quincy Ford had just six points on one field goal.

The Phoenix started aggressive and led 21-12 with a little over seven minutes to go. Eatherton kept Northeastern in the game by scoring 12 of the Huskies’ next 15 points.

The Huskies led 27-23 with over a minute left but a 3-pointer by Austin Hamilton and a jumper by Thompson gave Elon their first halftime lead since January 24th against Delaware.

Still, it seemed like Northeastern would regain control. They committed 10 turnovers in the first half and Elon lived and died by the 3-point line, going just 2-13 from behind the arc.

But Elon showed they have what it takes to win a statement game, starting the second half calm, collected and confident.

It took less than four minutes for them to jump out to a 8 point lead, with rookie sensation Elijah Bryant scoring 7 of their first nine points. Bryant was most impressive on the boards, with eight recorded rebounds.

Elon, who plays four guards in almost all of its lineups, won the battle of the boards 33-32.

The Huskies tried to punch back multiple times but Elon always had an answer – and they came from all over the roster.

Three different players scored in double figures and eight players scored on the team. Christian Hairston, a sophomore, scored nine points off the bench. He thinks the Phoenix are approaching a new level of basketball.

“We’re getting towards that point,” Hairston said. “Are we there yet? No. But we have another game, another week of practice to get to that point and we’ll be ready for the tournament.”

According to Thompson, the win could very well foreshadow a potential shocker in the CAA tournament for Elon men’s basketball.

“All it takes is one game,” Thompson said. “If they don’t come out and fight like we’re going to fight then we’re going to beat them and we’re going to move on.”

OBW CAA men’s basketball Power Rankings v10

Scott Eatherton and his Northeastern Huskies are back on top of OBW's first CAA Power Rankings. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Scott Eatherton and his Northeastern Huskies are back on top of OBW’s first CAA Power Rankings. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

This is going to be quite the photo finish. With two games remaining in the regular season, not only are the one through four spots in the conference standings still up for grabs, but all four teams fighting for them remain locked in a four-way tie for first place. With a centralized conference tournament and championship game in Baltimore, this should be two weeks.

Sadly, arguably the league’s best player won’t have any say on how the CAA Tournament plays out, as Drexel guard Damion Lee suffered a broken hand last week, shelving him for the rest of the regular season.

Without further delay, here’s a look around the conference in the latest OBW CAA men’s basketball Power Rankings.

1. Northeastern (18-10, 11-5 in CAA)
Results: Win 75-64 vs William & Mary; W 83-73 (OT) vs Drexel
This week: Thursday at Elon; Saturday at College of Charleston
In the most telling game of the CAA season, the Huskies proved that when they control the backboards, they are without a doubt the best team in the CAA. In a 75-64 win against William & Mary, coach Bill Coen’s won the battle of the boards 24-15 and only trailed for the first 30 seconds of the game.

2. William & Mary (17-10, 11-5)
Results: L 75-64 at Northeastern; W 80-78 at Hofstra
This week: Wednesday vs Towson; Saturday vs Drexel
The Tribe was exposed for a lot of weaknesses this week. Their lack of depth in the frontcourt resulted in a loss to the Huskies and team’s continue to sag off Terry Tarpey at the free throw line, sending help defenders to deny the ball from Marcus Thornton. Tarpey made Hofstra pay by going 4-5 from beyond in a 80-78 win over Hofstra. But unless William & Mary can find a way to compete on the boards, we could see a surprising early exit in the tournament.

3. UNC Wilmington (16-11, 11-5)
Results: L 70-59 at Delaware; W 73-69 at Towson
This week: Wednesday vs James Madison; Saturday at Elon
How could you hold it against the Seahawks for losing to Delaware when the Blue Hens have also beaten the two teams above? After the 70-59 loss, Addision Spruill rejuvenated his team with a 26-point performance in a 73-69 win against Towson.

4. Hofstra (18-11, 9-7)
Results: W 87-82 at Towson; L 80-78 vs William & Mary
This week: Wednesday vs College of Charleston; Saturday at James Madison
What a fun time is must have been to watch Juan’ya Green and Marcus Thornton go head on as the tournament approaches. Both teams are very similar: deep backcourt, many skilled players and abysmal defense as of late.

5. James Madison (17-11. 11-5)
Results: W 82-78 vs Drexel; W 68-61 vs College of Charleston
This week: Wednesday at UNC-Wilmington; Saturday vs Hofstra
Is there any way Matt Brady can get a honorable mention for Coach of the Year? The guy loses one of the best players on his team due to disciplinary issues, is running on a bunch of freshman and sophomores and is still able to pull out 17 wins. The Dukes were able to withstand a 26-point performance from Damion Lee and beat Charleston 68-61.

6. Delaware (8-19, 7-9)
Results: W 70-59 vs UNC-Wilmington; L 83-75 (OT) vs Elon
This week: Thursday at Drexel; Saturday at Towson.
As hard as it is to believe, Delaware might be the most impressive team in the CAA. They look as if they couldn’t beat by little brother’s middle school team in non-conference play and now Kory Holden and Marvin King-Davis have the top teams in the CAA shaking in their sneakers. A win against the Seahawks this week keeps them at the top of the bottom of the pack.

7. Towson (12-17. 5-11)
Results: L 87-82 vs Hofstra; L 73-69 vs UNC-Wilmington
This week: Wednesday at William & Mary
Granted they had a tough week in terms of competition, the Tigers still showed they’re the team players can expect to record a 20+ on. Add Addison Spriull and Damion Lee to that list.

8. Charleston (8-21, 3-13)
Results: W 77-63 vs Elon; L 68-61 at James Madison
This week: Wednesday at Hofstra; Saturday vs Northeastern
Sam Perkins’ Canyon Barry feature must of revved up the senior after a 22-point performance against the also lowly Elon. Joe Chealey also chipped in 16.

9. Elon (12-17, 4-12)
Results: L 77-63 at College of Charleston; W 83-75 at Delaware
This week: Thursday vs Northeastern; Saturday vs UNC-Wilmington
Good move by the Elon coaching staff inserting Elijah Bryant into the starting lineup. At this point, the point of this season is to get him as much on-court experience as possible.

10. Drexel (10-17, 8-8)
Results: L 82-78 at James Madison; L 83-73 (OT) at Northeastern
This week: Thursday vs Delaware; Saturday at William & Mary
In two losses this week, the Dragons were actually impressive, giving both James Madison and Northeastern competitive games. But Damion Lee is out for the year, meaning all chances just went out the door.

OBW CAA Player of the Week
Terry Tarpey, Jr., G/F, William & Mary
Tarpey scored 38 points, pulled down 13 rebounds, dished out six assists, swiped four steals and blocked a pair of shots in two games.

OBW CAA Rookie of the Week
Elijah Bryant, G, Elon
Bryant had 30 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists over two games for the Phoenix.

OBW CAA Fab Five
Juan’ya Green, R-Jr., G, Hofstra
Damion Lee, Jr., G, Delaware
Ameen Tanksley, R-Jr., G, Hofstra
Terry Tarpey, Jr., G, William & Mary
Marcus Thornton, Sr., G, William & Mary

OBW CAA Frosh Five
Elijah Bryant, G, Elon
Rokas Gustys, F, Hofstra
Kory Holden, G, Delaware
Mike Morsell, F, Towson
Jordan Talley, G, UNC Wilmington

OBW CAA Power Rankings v9

Addison Spruill and the Seahawks are making a run at the CAA conference title.
Addison Spruill and the Seahawks are making a run at the CAA conference title.

It’s been far, far too long since our last CAA Power Rankings, and quite a bit has changed towards the top of the conference since then, with Northeastern and Hofstra – two teams that appeared to have distanced themselves from the pack during the non-conference – coming back down to earth. With just two weeks remaining before the CAA Tournament, no clear-cut favorite has emerged and there are still six teams with a legitimate chance to win the regular season title – albeit it may take a few generous bounces of the ball for some of them.

With that said, we’re hoping back up on the horse with our latest edition of the OBW CAA Power Rankings – here’s a look at how the league is shaping up heading into the home stretch.

1. William & Mary (16-9, 10-4 in CAA)
Results: W 77-58 vs Elon; L 73-70 vs Delaware
This week: Wednesday at Northeastern; Sunday at Hofstra.
When the Tribe have played the crème of the CAA crop, they have taken care of business, and currently stand at 6-0 against the next three teams below them in the CAA Standings and OBW Power Rankings. But they have shown the ability to look past lesser opponents, as evidenced by their loss to Delaware. Offensively, it doesn’t get any better in the CAA than William & Mary, which ranks eighth in the entire nation in field goal percentage (49.3 percent) and 39th in scoring (73.9 points per game). Marcus Thornton remains the team’s unquestioned star, but Omar Prewitt, Daniel Dixon and Terry Tarpey give the Tribe a four-headed monster in the back court and on the wings. For all it’s back court star power, outside of Thornton, junior center Sean Sheldon may be the team’s most important player, as the 6’9” 245 pounder’s grit and guts allow the Tribe to play four guards against the physical and imposing CAA front courts.

2. UNC-Wilmington (15-10, 10-4 in CAA)
Results: W 58-45 vs College of Charleston; W 66-61 vs Northeastern
This week: Thursday at Delaware; Saturday at Towson
The Seahawks have been playing with a chip on their shoulders and a serious mean streak all year long under first year head coach Kevin Keatts, and have been perhaps the biggest surprise of the CAA this year. Addison Spruill, a 6’5” 230 pound ball of hustle and muscle has done a bit of everything, playing the two through four positions, while guards Freddy Jackson, Craig Ponder and Jordan Talley have all exploded at different points throughout the year. Like the Tribe, UNCW does much of its damage playing four-guards and spreading the court, with athletic 6’9” Cedrick Williams and 7’1” center C.J. Gettys doing the dirty work to hold off opposing front courts.

3. Northeastern (17-10, 9-5 in CAA)
Results: W 79-68 at Hofstra; L 66-61 at UNC-Wilmington
This week: Wednesday vs William & Mary; Saturday vs Drexel
After looking like world beaters during the non-conference season, the Huskies have been a bit Jekyll and Hyde during the CAA slate. Northeastern’s biggest strength – that it doesn’t rely on any one player to shoulder most of its load – may also be it’s biggest weakness – the Huskies still don’t have a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency go to scorer. Scott Eatherton remains the team’s best talent and has begun to turn it on down the stretch, but with teams continuing to sellout to stop the bruising center, the Huskies need other players to step up their games. Senior forward Reggie Spencer, who has been injured for most of the year but who plays as hard as anyone on the roster, and explosive but enigmatic shooting guard David Walker could be the keys to the season.

4. James Madison (16-11, 9-5 in CAA)
Results: W 67-54 at Delaware; W 86-75 at Elon
This week: Wednesday vs Drexel; Saturday vs College of Charleston
Conventional wisdom was that James Madison was going to be a year away from making another run at the NCAAs – thinking that seemed to be reinforced when Andre Nation was dismissed from the team earlier this year. However, prognosticators likely didn’t see sophomore center Yohanny Dalembert’s rapid growth; the Haitian earthquake survivor has blossomed into a go-to scorer in the post, game changer on the glass and true rim protector on defense. When Dalembert is combined with dynamic point guard Ron Curry and gunner Kackson Kent, the Dukes have a diverse offense capable of scoring in the post, off the dribble, and from behind the arc.

5. Hofstra (17-10, 8-6 in CAA)
Results: L 79-68 vs Northeastern; W 81-57 at Drexel
This week: Wednesday at Towson; Sunday vs William & Mary
Not that long ago, behind a quartet of dynamic guards, Hofstra was the team to beat in the CAA. Then mid-January struck, the Pride couldn’t get stops on D, and dropped five out of six, including four losses at home, prompting head coach Joe Mihalich to joke, “we’re going to just play all of our games on the road,” recently. The Pride have since righted the ship, winning three out of four (although one has to wonder how much of it was favorable scheduling. Guards Juan’ya Green, Ameen Tanskley, Brian Bernadri and Dion Nesmith can all light it up from anywhere on the floor, but Hofstra needs them to step up their defensive game, and start getting constent low post production from the likes of Moussa Kone and Rokas Gustys. Kone’s monster game – 23 points on 10-of-10 shooting – was a big step in the right direction.

6. Drexel (10-15, 8-6 in CAA)
Results: W 53-49 vs Towson; L81-57 vs Hofstra
This week: Wednesday at James Madison; Saturday at Northeastern.
Three and a half weeks ago and head coach Bruiser Flint’s squad was sinking like a stone. Fast forward and, up until a beating at the hands of Hofstra, they were one of the hottest teams in the CAA, winners of six straight – including games over Northeastern and UNC Wilmington. Guard Damion Lee remains a one-man scoring binge and a front runner for conference Player of the Year honors, but the Dragons fortunes changed when power forward Rodney Williams returned to the lineup from an injury, giving Drexel a presence on the glass and around the rim.

7. Towson (12-15, 5-9 in CAA)
Results: L 53-49 at Drexel; W 53-50 at College of Charleston
This week: Wednesday vs Hofstra; Saturday vs UNC Wilmington
The Tigers have lost three out of their last four, but all three have been by single digits, two of them to contenders Northeastern and James Madison and the third to a red-hot Drexel squad. Towson has struggled with consistency, but when forwards John Davis and Timajh Parker-Rivera are getting after it on the glass and Four McGlynn is knocking down shots, they can play with anyone.

8. Delaware (7-18, 6-8 in CAA)
Results: L 67-54 vs James Madison; W 73-70 at William & Mary
This week; Thursday vs UNC Wilmington; Saturday vs Elon
The Blue Hens are the hardest team to figure out in the CAA. After winning one – count it, one – game during the entire non-conference slate, they’ve gone 6-8 in the CAA, where they managed to lose to lowly Elon by a dozen points, but somehow swept William & Mary and split with Northeastern. Senior Kyle Anderson and freshman Kory Holden can score from behind the arc, but Delaware’s front court – led by Marvin King-Davis and Maurice Jeffers – remain the keys to the team.

9. College of Charleston (7-20, 2-12 in CAA)
Results: L 58-45 at UNC Wilmington; L 53-50 at Towson
This week: Wednesday vs Elon; Saturday at James Madison
It’s year one of a program rebuild for first year head coach Earl Grant, but the Cougars can still put on a show when they are hitting their shots, with sophomore back court duo Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey capable of lighting it up on any given night.

10. Elon (11-16, 3-11 in CAA)
Results: L 77-58 at William & Mary; L 86-75 vs James Madison
This week: Wednesday at College of Charleston; Saturday at Delaware
The Phoenix have lost six in a row and 10 out of their last 11. Elon fans have reason to be excited with talented underclassmen Elijah Bryant (freshman) and Luke Eddy (sophomore) lighting it up from the back court, but their front court remains an Achilles heel.

OBW CAA Player of the Week
Scott Eatherton, R-Sr., C, Northeastern

There were a lot of big performances and several deserving candidates for the week – among them, Hofstra’s Juan’ya Green’s 31 points, 16 assists, eight rebounds and three steals in two games; and William & Mary’s Omar Prewitt’s 44 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals in two games — but Eatherton’s 47 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks and three assists stood out them most.

OBW Co-CAA Rookies of the Week
Elijah Bryant, G, Elon

Byrant scored 33 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and dished out nine assists.

Jordan Talley, G, UNC Wilmington
Talley scored 32 points, pulled down eight rebounds, dished out five assists and added a pair of steals in two big wins.

OBW CAA Fab Five
Juan’ya Green, R-Jr., G, Hofstra
Damion Lee, Jr., G, Delaware
Ameen Tanksley, R-Jr., G, Hofstra
Terry Tarpey, Jr., G, William & Mary
Marcus Thornton, Sr., G, William & Mary

OBW CAA Frosh Five
Elijah Bryant, G, Elon
Rokas Gustys, F, Hofstra
Kory Holden, G, Delaware
Mike Morsell, F, Towson
Jordan Talley, G, UNC Wilmington

Elon’s “Air Canada” Kevin Blake a dark horse for College Slam Dunk competition

Kevin Blake has spent the past four years rising up towards the rafters and reaching a cruising altitude high above the rims at Alumni Gym. But the next runway the 6-foot-3-inch Elon senior guard nicknamed “Air Canada” takes off from may be on a national stage, as he was announced as one of 16 players chosen as finalists for one “Dark Horse” spot in the 2015 College Slam Dunk Contest.

Intersport, producers of the State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships have announced first round voting for the 2015 State Farm Dark Horse Dunker competition is now open through Feb. 18. Blake was among the 16-player field comprised of “under-the-radar players who possess the power, creativity and hops to compete against college basketball’s stars in the College Slam Dunk Championship,” the company announced.

Fans will ultimately determine the winner of the contest by voting daily at DarkHorseDunker.com throughout the four-week competition, which pits the 16 high-fliers head-to-head in a bracket-style elimination competition.

“Over its 26 editions, the State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships have become the benchmark for skills events,” said Drew Russell, vice president of Owned Properties at Intersport. “Through the first four years of the program, the State Farm Dark Horse Dunker winner has gone on to win the College Slam Dunk Championship three times. This fan element has really added electricity to the whole event.”

Blake, who is averaging 7.9 points and 3.3 assists while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor through 26 games for the Phoenix, will have his hands full in the tournament’s first round against Radford’s Javonte Green. Here’s a look at Green’s highlights:

Round One Winners will be announced Feb. 18 when Round Two opens. Voting for Round Two, the semi-finals and the finals also will be open one week each. The champion will be announced March 11 at DarkHorseDunker.com and will travel to Indianapolis to compete in the State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships, which airs April 2 live on ESPN. To vote, visit www.darkhorsedunker.com.

The Round One matchups are:
• LeShaun Murphy (Auburn University at Montgomery) vs. Jevoni Robinson (Barry University)

• James Sinclair (Western Carolina University) vs. Chrishawn Hopkins (Wright State University)

• Brandon Peters (Talladega College) vs. Deshawn Delaney (University of New Mexico)

• Antjuan Ball (West Texas A&M University) vs. Evan Pannell (College of Wooster)

• John Jordan (Texas A&M – Corpus Christi) vs. Malcolm Miller (College of the Holy Cross)

• Kendall Hargrove (University of Mount Olive) vs. Andrew Smith (Liberty University)

• Javonte Green (Radford University) vs. Kevin Blake (Elon University)

• Davene Carter (Tarleton State University) vs. Jaylon Moore (University of Evansville)
Previous State Farm Dark Horse Dunker winners include Marcus Lewis (Eastern Kentucky University) in 2014, Corey Law (High Point University) in 2013, James Justice (Martin Methodist College) in 2012, and Jacob Tucker (Illinois College) in 2011. Lewis, Justice and Tucker all went on to win the College Slam Dunk Championship.

CAA coaches talk Dean Smith’s legacy, impact

It sounds so cliché: Dean Smith left an impact on everyone who ever picked up a basketball during his lifetime. It is a phrase — in one incarnate or another — that has flooded the airwaves, taken over television screens and been displayed across print articles every day since the legendary coach passed away at the age of 83 on Feb. 7.

Yet with each passing hour — and the thousands of new stories, told by players and coaches from every level of the game that continue to roll in — it is obvious that Smith transcended the tired sports clichés about the impact a coach can leave on everyone he comes in contact with and turned them into the gospel truth.

Even in the Colonial Athletic Association — a conference akin to a single grain of sand sitting at the bottom of the great wide Atlantic Ocean that is the ACC, the conference Smith called home patrolling the sidelines for the University of North Carolina for nearly four decades — Smith’s lasting legacy was paramount.

On Tuesday morning, all 10 CAA head coaches took time out of their weekly teleconference to talk about the impact Smith had left on them, and all — ranging from William & Mary head coach Tony Schaver, who played for four years as a walk-on under Smith, to James Madison’s Matt Brady, who only knew Smith as a fan from afar — were touching and unique.

“Other than my father, there has never been a male figure who has influenced me more than Dean has. Today, I look at it much more as a person than as a coach,” said Shaver, who played for Smith from 1972-1976. “He was such a great coach and such a great teacher. He was an incredible teacher of the game of basketball and how to live your life.“

“I never met coach Smith,” said Brady, “[But] he’s had such a tremendous impact not only on his program and the players he’s touched, but on everybody who aspired to be a basketball coach.”

Smith’s Hall of Fame career at North Carolina literally revolutionized the game, with the coach implementing systems and schemes that remain a part of the college landscape, while simultaneously continuing to evolve his system to suit the strengths of his roster every season.

“He taught us so much about basketball,” said UNC Wilmington head coach Kevin Keatts. “When you look at it, I would say he’s a trendsetter. There’s not a program that you play in any conference that’s not running the Carolina back screens, the backdoors and everything else.”

With 879 career wins, 17 ACC regular-season titles, 13 ACC tournament championships, 11 Final Fours and two National Championships (1982 and 1993), Smith’s career will always be know for his gaudy numbers. But to Towson head coach Pat Skerry, Smith will forever be linked to a different kind of numbers, as the coach analyzed advanced statistics long before the term “sabermetrics” had ever been coined.

“It’s impressive that he was kind of ahead of the game with the analytics and the advanced stats,” said Skerry.

But for all of the coaches who had the opportunity to meet him, even in passing, the biggest impact Smith left had nothing to do with Xs and Os, but how he was as a man.

“As everyone keeps saying, it was the human side of him. The basketball side of him speaks for itself,” said Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich, who got to know Smith when he was working as an assistant at Dematha Catholic High School in Maryland in the late 70s and early 80s.

“A few years later when I was an assistant at La Salle I had just had twins, and I didn’t think he knew about it and he came up to me and asked all about them… he was an amazing person,” Mihalich remembered.

“I think his biggest thing was the way he maintained relationships with everybody and was always looking to help,” said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen.

Coen coached against Smith’s Tar Heels in the 1993 NCAA tournament as a University of Rhode Island assistant.

“I think at the 16-minute mark we were up 11-10 and Dean Smith called a timeout and we thought we were doing pretty well, and by halftime we were down by about 40,” laughed Coen.

Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint first met Smith when he was a young kid, all of 10 or maybe 11 years old, in Philadelphia. His father was helping the legendary coach recruit a local player.

“He sent me a poster of the Carolina team that lost in the Final Four. Every player signed it… At 10 years old that’s huge,” said Flint, noticeable pride in his voice all these years later. “Once I got in coaching, those guys actually talked about when they met me when I was 10 years old. [Smith] would say, ‘I remember you,’ and ask me how my dad was… that always put a special place in my heart about Dean Smith.”

But it was Smith’s former player, Shaver, on whom Smith left the biggest impact.

“There’s probably two percent of things that I’ve done in my career that is not exactly like the way he did them,” said Shaver. “He treated everybody fairly. He cared about everybody that was in his program, and I think the loyalty that he built because of that was the most impressive thing about his time at North Carolina.

“How he cared about people, and how he took a stand about what he thought was right. That goes from the Civil Rights movement right down to how he coached.”

For every CAA coach, from his surrogate son in Shaver to those who had never met him, Smith left behind an impossible void to fully fill, and an indelible impact that will never go away.

“When I woke up on Sunday to hear that he passed, it was such a said day because of all the players and people he touched,” said Keatts. “We’re going to miss him.”

“But,” said Coen, “his legacy will live on.”

For Elijah Bryant, home, family, are always with him

Elon freshman Elijah Bryant. Photo Credit: Elon University Athletics/Grant Halverson
Elon freshman Elijah Bryant. Photo Credit: Elon University Athletics/Grant Halverson

Some players have a hard time traveling away from home and adjusting to college basketball.

Elon’s Elijah Bryant, a CAA Rookie of the Year candidate, is not one of those players. For the Georgia native, home never really went away. Bryant’s mother Israel, father Tyree, stepfather Reginold Strother, as well as his grandma and uncle, come to all of his home games and most road games.

“I obviously feel more comfortable,” says Bryant. “You’re out there and your mom has been watching you play your whole life, so she understands it’s just another game. It helps you calm down, and it’s a confidence builder.”

Confidence is definitely not lacking in the guard. In 22 games, Bryant leads Elon (11-11, 3-6) in scoring at 13.9 ppg on 37-percent shooting. The rookie had one of his best performances in Elon’s season opener against Drexel with 32 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

His performance off the court has also been impressive. A biology and chemistry major, Bryant visits a tutor two to three times a week, often after his practices.

In addition to his family’s presence, Bryant and Elon head coach Matt Matheny, credited his decision to go to prep school for his great start.

“My ability to focus on basketball and not have that period of home sickness, since I played at prep school, I’ve already dealt with that,” says Bryant.

Bryant averaged 13 points, four rebounds and four assists at New Hampshire’s New Hampton School. The season was enough to get offers from Vermont, Gardner-Webb, Loyola, New Hampshire and Elon. When it came time to make a decision, Bryant was certain on going back down south.

Not just because his family would be there but Elon’s system also seemed perfect for the point guard.

“They had four 1,000-point scorers leaving,” says Bryant. “Some scoring had to be taken care of, so it’s a nice opportunity to step on the floor and be a threat.”

Elon freshman Elijah Bryant. Photo Credit: Elon University Athletics/Grant Halverson
Elon freshman Elijah Bryant. Photo Credit: Elon University Athletics/Grant Halverson

Of course, prep school wouldn’t have even been an option if not for the effort of Bryant’s family. Tyree sparked the passion by making sure Bryant always had a ball in his hands. As a young boy, Bryant played in recreational leagues in Athens but his mother realized he needed to be in a more competitive league.

“My mom knew I was a big fish in a little pond so she had to take me out of Athens and then took me to Atlanta,” says Bryant.

Israel made the two-hour commute to and from all of Bryant’s practices and games with the AAU’s Atlanta Celtics.
Now in college, it seems Bryant is carrying on the family tradition of hard work.

“His work ethic is something for a first-year player that’s a joy to be around, a joy to coach and he listens too,” Matheny said. “He’s very coachable.”

After all the sacrifice they made, Bryant it just trying to make his family’s time worthwhile.

“I don’t want to say ‘oh, I could have went harder there,’” Bryant said. “That’s my worst fear. I want to leave it all out there on the floor.”

Elon freshman Elijah Bryant. Photo credit: Elon University Athletics/Grant Halverson
Elon freshman Elijah Bryant. Photo credit: Elon University Athletics/Grant Halverson