View from the stands: Hats off to the Phoenix

It’s an often overused and overstated quote from a defeated coach: “Our players gave tremendous effort.” Upon hearing this, most sports fans know their team lost the game and the coach just wants to credit his players with not giving up.

But in the case of Elon head coach Pete Lembo, in a statement released about Saturday’s playoff loss to Richmond, “Our players gave tremendous effort” is a drastic understatement.

A lot of defenses across the country, not just in the Football Championship Subdivision but all of college football, would have extraordinary trouble playing a game in which its leading tackler was hurt on the second play from scrimmage. When that happened to the Phoenix defense as sophomore linebacker Josh Jones was driven off the field, the Phoenix defense could have broken before the offense had taken the field.

But the Phoenix rallied and brought new meaning to the bend-don’t-break strategy.

Although the unit allowed the Spiders to gain 400 net offensive yards, it only surrendered 16 points. Seventy four of those yards came on one play, a quarterback bootleg run by Richmond senior Eric Ward.

After Elon freshman kicker Adam Shreiner missed wide right on a 27-yard field goal with 90 seconds remaining to tie the game, a few fans headed to the exits. Others who stayed in their seats put on coats, hats and were ready for the clock to hit zero so they could try to beat the dreaded game traffic.

There was just one problem — the Phoenix defense was not ready to call it a day, and after stuffing three Spider runs they got the ball back to the Phoenix offense with 25 seconds to go. It was as if the defense said to Richmond, try defending National Champions, “No, you’re going to have to do more to win this game.”

While 25 seconds at the end of a basketball game can seem like an eternity, 25 seconds at the end of a football game for an offense with no timeouts left is not much time.

But junior quarterback Scott Riddle, who played with more heart and determination than I have ever seen from a quarterback, commanded one last Phoenix drive down to the Spiders’ 30-yard line. As Shreiner’s 48-yard field goal attempt fell short, so did the Phoenix’s chance of earning a rematch with Appalachian State University on Saturday.

And who’s to say players are the only people at football games to show heart? On Saturday, there were no Elon students socializing at the football game, as is common at Rhodes Stadium. Nobody left at halftime because there was something more important to do on a Saturday afternoon. The Phoenix faithful stood behind the team and did their best to neutralize any home-field advantage for the Spiders.

Forget the 74-yard touchdown run by a quarterback. Forget the 27 net rushing yards for the Phoenix. Forget the two missed field goals with less than two minutes left in the game. Forget settling for six points on three trips into the red zone. Forget two plays before the first field goal attempt in which Phoenix receivers were inches from scoring touchdowns.

What should be remembered about the biggest football game in Phoenix history is how hard the players fought to the final whistle. The truly inspiring play of the defense and Riddle’s last-minute heroics should be beacons of what is to come for a rising Phoenix program.

It should be remembered that senior wide receiver Terrell Hudgins had another huge game for the Phoenix with 12 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown.

Most importantly, it should be remembered how hard this team worked throughout the season and how much heart it showed in a gut-wrenching loss.

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Phoenix men’s basketball falls behind early in season

With its next four games on the road, the Elon men’s basketball team needed a strong showing against the UNC Wilmington Seahawks on Sunday night in Alumni Gym.

What it got was an 86-56 loss, dropping the Phoenix to 2-5 in the young season.
What may be more troubling for the Phoenix is that the schedule only gets tougher from this point.

Following road games against Samford University and UT Chattanooga, the Phoenix will take on Wake Forest University and North Carolina State University in the next few weeks.

“The opportunity for us to play teams like Wake Forest and N.C. State can only help prepare our team for January and February in the Southern Conference,” head coach Matt Matheny said earlier this year.

Last year, in its first SoCon season, the Bulldogs beat the Phoenix twice en route to a 16-16 record, with a 9-11 mark in SoCon play.

Against the Mocs in the 2008-09 season, the Phoenix split the regular season series 1-1. The teams met again in the second round of the conference tournament with the Mocs winning that contest 79-78 and eventually taking the tournament.

These will be the first SoCon tests for the Phoenix, which went 7-13 in SoCon play last season.
So far the Phoenix has struggled to find any offensive consistency, shooting 41 percent from the field and committing more turnovers, 98, than assists, 94.

The defense has also struggled as opponents have shot 48 percent from the field.

During the first half on Sunday’s game, the Seahawks had the momentum as they were outscored 40-18.

“In the first half we allowed one mistake to become two mistakes and it snowballed on us,” Matheny said.

With five losses, by an average of 19 points per loss, Matheny would like to be able to say more than he’s proud his team battled for 40 minutes.

“We’re getting better at playing hard the whole game, despite the score,” Matheny said. “I want to be in a different situation with the score, so we can continue to play hard.”

Even with a 30-point loss, the Phoenix grabbed 21 offensive rebounds, resulting in 17 second-chance points.

Individually, sophomore guard Terrance Birdette had 13 points and five rebounds Sunday. A combined 24 points in his last two games tops his career total of 22 points coming into this season.

“The more (Birdette) realizes how good he can be, the better he plays,” Matheny said. “He’s a gifted basketball player who can score in a variety of ways.”

Birdette is averaging seven points so far this season, but has made 11 of 17 attempted 3-pointers. He has also recorded 20 rebounds and nine assists for the Phoenix.

Senior forward Adam Constantine added 12 points, along with six rebounds, to provide the Phoenix with an inside scoring presence Sunday.

For the Phoenix to accomplish its seasonal goals of getting better every day, having fun and playing to win, Matheny said he thinks his players and coaching staff must stay within the system.

“We just need to stay the course,” Matheny said. “Because, believe it or not, even in a 30-point loss, I see things in the game that we’re working on.”

Matheny said after the game, in his usual meeting with his coaching staff, he and his assistants agreed no major changes need to be made.

The Phoenix play at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Samford University.

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As rain falls, class attendance drops

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Thomas Boswell Articles

Here is collection of my personal favorite Boswell articles. Feel free to click on the links. To read you might have to create a Washington Post profile, but don’t worry it’s free!

Dan Snyder- George Steinbrenner comparison -suggestions for how the horrendous owner of the Redskins can learn from ‘The Boss,’ and return the team to glory.

Redskins no longer focused, hope diminishing -after a terrible loss to the lowly Detroit Lions, Boswell explores what is wrong with DC’s team.

Tiger Woods experiences losing? -as Boswell is versatile, he implores golf fans to realize that, against logic, Tiger Woods is actually beatable.

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Carter improves on and off court

Adapting to a new coach is no small challenge. Adapting to a new coach for a player’s senior season is even harder.

But Devan Carter, along with three other teammates, will play his last season this year as a Phoenix under the direction of new head coach Matt Matheny.

“I think I’ve adapted well,” Carter said. “Coach Matheny has a lot of new basketball terminology that I’ve never heard before, but our team is adjusting pretty well to it.”

Carter is vital to the Phoenix this season, as Matheny will lean heavily on this team’s senior leadership.

“Part of being a leader is making sure everybody is on the same page,” Carter said. “So I feel a little added responsibility to do that because I know that’s what has to happen for us to have a good year.”

Joining Carter are seniors Adam Constantine, T.J. Douglas and Jon Ogolo.

“Those guys have been through the trenches also, so it doesn’t just fall on me,” Carter said. “We’re able to teach the younger guys some new things and we work together doing that.”

Adjusting to the new coaching is a challenge that can be solved off the court, while Carter has also taken necessary steps to improve his game on the court.

Last season, Carter averaged 7.1 points per game, making him one of the top returning scorers for the Phoenix. He also added about two rebounds per game.

The first step taken was during the summer, when Carter decided to stay at Elon. He made Alumni Gym his second home, lifting weights and practicing all summer.

Carter also played in the Triad Pro-Am league this summer, which featured several NBA players and Wake Forest players. Former Demon Deacon James Johnson and all-state Chris Paul were two NBA players who played alongside Carter in the league.

“Every game we played against somebody from Wake Forest, somebody who played (in Europe) or somebody in the NBA,” Carter said.

By playing in this league, Carter said he got used to playing against top-level competition, which can only help the Phoenix when the season starts.

But when personal goals are discussed, Carter admits it’s a little too early to think about those things. Like any good leader, Carter said he would much rather have team success than personal success.

“Of course I want to have a good senior year, but ultimately I know that if I average 25 points per game and we win four games, our season would be a failure,” Carter said. “I’d much rather average five points per game and make it to the NCAA tournament.”

He said he believes the Phoenix has the players and the talent to capture a Southern Conference tournament championship, which would give the team an automatic NCAA tournament bid.

If the Phoenix does capture its first tournament championship, Carter will be one of the keys to victory, regardless of how many points he scores.

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Former Elon coach gains top position in NFL

Burlington native and former Elon basketball coach Danny Morrison thought his last job would be athletics director at Texas Christian University. He felt comfortable in the Fort Worth, Texas, area.

Then his good friend, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, came calling. Richardson was looking for a new team president after his son had stepped down.

“He called on a Saturday and told me that he had an extraordinary opportunity,” Morrison said. “The next day he called back, and that’s where it all fell into fruition.”

Morrison was officially named the president of the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 2. He is responsible for the Panthers’ business operations, and he represents the organization in league matters.

But while some become overwhelmed with the jump from college to professional sports, Morrison said he has adjusted smoothly.

“I knew there would be a learning curve, but (this job) has been made easier for me because I came into an organization already with good people,” Morrison said. “All one really has to do is see that Mr. Richardson has one of the classiest organizations in the NFL.”

Working his way up

As is the case with most powerful sports figures, Morrison had humble beginnings. After graduating from Wofford College in 1975, Morrison went back to work for his alma mater, Williams High School, in Burlington.

He coached basketball and taught math for five years, then was hired by Elon College to be an assistant basketball coach and the mens head tennis coach. Morrison also taught in the math department at Elon.

Morrison said he would always be grateful for the opportunity offered to him by Elon, and that the people of the Elon community were great people to work with and learn from.

“I loved my time at Elon because it was such a special time,” Morrison said. “The people there took interest in (me), and they showed me a lot.”

One person who was around to show Morrison the college sports scene was current Elon men’s head golf coach Bill Morningstar.

“He was the top candidate for the assistant basketball coach position, and we were already familiar with him from local basketball camps,” Morningstar said.

Morrison started at Elon in 1980 and climbed the ladder quickly. He eventually swapped teaching for an assistant athletics director position, which led him to his field of expertise.

From Elon, Morrison was named the athletics director at Wofford in 1985, a post he held for 12 years. After four more years as Wofford’s senior vice president, Morrison was named the commissioner of the Southern Conference.

In four years as the SoCon commissioner, Morrison established many partnerships and enhanced the conference’s television coverage.

From there, Morrison was hired by Texas Christian University as the athletics director. He spent more than four years there before getting the call from Richardson.

Someone who moves through the sports ranks so quickly obviously has something that makes him stand above others, and Morningstar said he knows what that is.

“From the first day he got (to Elon), he was non-stop,” Morningstar said. “He worked as hard as anybody I’ve seen, and he’s still the same type person now as he was at Elon.”

Becoming president

Morrison has found more parallels in the move to professional sports than he had anticipated.

“The fundamentals are the same in every organization, whether you’re at the college or professional level,” Morrison said.

He said he has learned in his experience that it takes harmony, good listening and respecting others to run a successful sports business.

In regard to Morrison being the same person he was 25 years ago, Morningstar again had an anecdote to share.

“Twenty minutes before the introduction press conference for the Panthers, (Morrison) called me and told me the news,” Morningstar said. “He said he had to run, but after the conference he called me back and gave me his contact information.”

Morrison said he is also thankful he has had the blessing of a good boss everywhere he has worked.

“From Williams High School to the Carolina Panthers, I’ve had excellent bosses,” Morrison said. “That makes for a terrific working relationship.”

While hired in September, Morrison did not start working until early October. He is married, but his wife, Peggy, is still in Texas trying to sell their home while Morrison lives in the Residence Inn across from the Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers.

“It’s been tough, but it’s a transition that we have to work through,” Morrison said.

If history is any indication,  Morrison will work as hard as he can to make another transition in his life.

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Basketball showcases experience, wins first game

From the start of this season, the Phoenix basketball team has aimed to improve every day until the end of its season. Monday night, the team showed tremendous improvement from the first to second half.

In head coach Matt Matheny‘s coaching debut, the Phoenix found itself tied with the Washington and Lee Generals in the first of two exhibition games this season.

“I wasn’t surprised at halftime,” said Matheny, reflecting on the 32-32 score after 20 minutes of basketball.

The players responded in the second half, scoring 55 points en route to an 87-62 victory. The Phoenix used a 30-14 scoring run after halftime to break things open.

Leading the way for the Phoenix was senior forward Adam Constantine, with 17 points. Sophomore guard Terrance Birdette and senior forward TJ Douglas each added 16 points.

As is usually the case, the first game can foreshadow what fans may see throughout the year.

Matheny said he wants his team to play aggressive defense and push the ball offensively. With 24 points off turnovers and 22 assists, the Phoenix have adapted well to his system.

In addition to improving throughout the season, the goals set forth by Matheny for this season are to play to win and to have fun. With winning and improving cleared, the question remained if the Phoenix had fun.

“I think all our guys had fun out there, and it was good experience,” Matheny said.

As for any first game jitters for Matheny, he admitted to some nervousness leading up to the game.

“There were butterflies two days ago and yesterday but not really today,” Matheny said. “This was gameday.”

But more importantly, the Phoenix played 40 minutes of stifling defense to force the Generals into making 18 turnovers.

“I thought the biggest plays of the game were our defensive stops,” Constantine said.

That is a key area that the Phoenix will need to improve to have a successful 2009-10 campaign.
Last season, the Phoenix surrendered an average of 70.9 points per game. That was good enough for fifth in the conference, but the offense averaged just 65.8 points per game.

Phoenix fans also saw something that was rare last season: Elon out-rebounded the Generals 38-26. Last season, the Phoenix was ninth in the conference in rebounding differential, with a negative 3.1 differential.

Among the 38 Phoenix rebounds, 16 were on the offensive side of the court, resulting in 22 second chance points.

“Heart is the biggest factor for offensive rebounds,” Constantine said. “Technique is only going to take you so far.”

Another difference between this game and last season was free throw efficiency. Last season, the Phoenix shot a woeful .645 from the line, second to last in the conference.

Against the Generals, the Phoenix made 14 of 16 free throws. This is a statistic that the players put great effort into improving.

“We work on free throws every day in practice, and it’s something we take pride in,” Douglas said.

The Phoenix was able to handle the adversity of being tied at the half. Douglas said once the team took a deep breath, the game seemed to slow down.

Next up for the Phoenix is its final exhibition, against Greensboro College at 7 p.m on Monday in Alumni Gym.

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