WASHINGTON — A season filled with frustrating losses and pieces not falling into place was epitomized in one game.
JMU men’s basketball raced to a 14-0 lead starting the evening. Elon didn’t score for the first 5:04 of the game and didn’t lead for the entirety of the contest.
Until there were three seconds left on the clock.
Tied at 61, Elon was awarded possession after a scramble for the ball under the Dukes’ basket went out of bounds. The Phoenix brought the ball up and executed a play drawn for graduate student guard/forward Marcus Sheffield II. The Alpharetta, Georgia, native rose and released the ball, giving Elon its first lead.
Sheffield’s game-winner. pic.twitter.com/QyPlNOaBwF— Breeze Sports (@TheBreezeSports) March 8, 2020
As it has throughout the season, JMU left the game infuriated. This time, it ends the 2019-20 season with despair.
Sheffield’s jumper handed Elon a 63-61 victory, setting up a game with second-seeded William & Mary. While the Phoenix will prepare to keep its season alive, the Dukes are left with questions surrounding the program and the direction it’s heading.
“It’s unfortunate because you go into the locker room and guys have their heads down,” head coach Louis Rowe said. “And, you just hurt.”
For a team that’s lost 14 of its previous 15 games, JMU started the game as if it completed a total rebuild since its loss to Hofstra a week ago. The Dukes established a substantial lead thanks to a pair of dunks from freshman forward Julien Wooden and junior forward Zach Jacobs, respectively.
Elon didn’t do itself any favors as JMU quickly found its rhythm. The Phoenix began the game 0-for-6 from the field and 0-for-5 from 3-point range. Its first basket came over five minutes into the contest and sparked a 9-0 run, erasing the Dukes’ dominant start and keeping the Phoenix within range.
“I think our effort was where it needed to be for 35 minutes of the game,” sophomore guard Deshon Parker said. “It hurts because this team, you know, has been through so much … We just stuck together and kept battling. No matter what, we stayed together.”
Once the red-hot Dukes cooled off, Elon kept chipping at the deficit. However, it only got as close as four with 1:31 left in the first half, and JMU pushed its lead to six before the halftime break.
Down 34-28 at halftime, Elon needed to make adjustments to continue its comeback bid. It began with a slower tempo and eventually turned to forcing the ball into the paint. Sophomore forward Federico Poser was the key cog in the Phoenix’s second-half offense, barging his way to a total of 14 points.
With 13:39 remaining in the contest, Elon leveled the score at 43 following a Poser jump hook, but the Phoenix couldn’t push into the lead. It was the culmination of a frustrating night for head coach Mike Schrage. Following Poser’s score, Jacobs answered with an inside move of his own to put JMU back up, 45-43.
An untimely scoring drought that lasted nearly eight minutes — combined with a 9-0 run from JMU — seemed to put the Phoenix to bed, but a string of 3’s kept Elon within striking distance.
Trailing 61-59 with 47 seconds left, an emphatic dunk from Sheffield equaled the score. On the ensuing possession, JMU couldn’t get the look it wanted, forcing Lewis to take a contested floater. His shot didn’t fall, and Elon was handed possession. Moments later, Sheffield hit the dagger in the Dukes’ hearts, ending any hope of a Cinderella run from JMU.
“You guys can look at records, you can look at all this other stuff,” Lewis said. “But when it comes to [Rowe], he’s caring, and he does whatever he can for our players. So, I really appreciate him, and I love him.”
Elon’s contest with William & Mary will tip off Sunday at 6 p.m.
Contact Noah Ziegler at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.