SAMFORD BASKETBALL HEADS TO ELON FOR OPENING GAME OF THREE-GAME ROAD TRIP
--- The Bulldogs will play key SoCon matchups at Elon, UNC Greensboro and Furman ---
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --- The Samford University basketball team will begin play in a critical three-game, six-day Southern Conference road trip Thursday at 6 p.m. (CST) as the Bulldogs square off against the Elon Phoenix in Alumni Gym (1,558).
The matchup will be the second meeting between the teams this season. On Dec. 3, Samford (7-10, 1-4 SoCon) welcomed Elon (3-14, 1-5 SoCon) to the Pete Hanna Center and earned a 55-31 league-opening win. In the Bulldogs' Dec. 3 victory against the Phoenix, Samford registered its best defensive performance since a 73-30 win against Brewton-Parker on Nov. 24, 2007.
Samford has been defeated in four straight SoCon games and its matchup with Elon marks the beginning of a critical three-game conference road trip. The Bulldogs' six-day trek through the Carolinas will also feature games at UNC Greensboro (Saturday) and Furman (Monday). Samford will attempt to make up some ground in SoCon play as its three opponents are a combined 15-37 this season.
The Bulldogs are only allowing an average of 58.1 points per game and are well on pace to lead the SoCon in scoring defense for a second-straight year. Last season, Samford was ranked first in the conference by only allowing an average of 62.2 points per contest.
Elon heads into Thursday's game with aspirations of snapping its current eight-game losing streak. The Phoenix's last victory occurred Dec. 5 as it knocked off the defending SoCon Tournament champion Chattanooga Mocs 82-63 on the road.
A key matchup for Elon will be sophomore guard Terrance Birdette against Samford's perimeter defense. Birdette, the Phoenix's native of Hoschton, Ga., is ranked second in the SoCon in 3-point field-goal percentage. He is shooting 45.5 percent from beyond the arc this season and will try to take advantage of the Bulldogs' 3-point field-goal defense which is only ranked sixth in the conference.
Samford is allowing opponents to shoot 33.2 percent from long range this year and has surrendered 35 3-point baskets in its last four games.
Elon, which is the last-place team in the conference's North Division, has only played four games at home this season and owns a 1-3 record at Alumni Gym. Last year, Samford squeaked out a hard-fought 55-51 contest played in Elon, N.C.
In their first SoCon road win last season, the Bulldogs were led in scoring by Trey Montgomery and Bryan Friday. Montgomery, the Bulldogs' 6-foot-4 guard from Destrehan, La., tallied a team-high 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field. Friday added 14 points, eight of which were scored in the second half.
Friday came through with four of Samford's five final points of the game, including a significant one-handed fade-away jumper with the shot clock expiring.
On Thursday, Samford will square off against Elon for only the fourth time in school history. The Bulldogs own a 3-0 record against the Phoenix and earned a 55-31 victory at home earlier this season. In the Dec. 3 matchup, Samford's Josh Davis paced the team with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.
The Bulldogs' native of Lubbock, Texas, was coming off a career-high 26-point performance against Texas Tech and continued his hot hand. Davis knocked down his first four shots of the game from beyond the arc.
Senior forward Bryan Friday followed with 11 points, five rebounds and a steal, while sophomore guard John Peterson added eight points on 3-of-4 shooting. Peterson also grabbed a pair of rebounds and blocked a shot.
Since Christmas, Samford's Friday is averaging 16.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per outing, while Davis has followed with an average of 13.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.6 3-point field goals per contest. Montgomery, the Bulldogs' third-year starting point guard, is tallying an average of 9.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in his last five games.
Samford returned 11 players from last season's squad that streaked to the semifinal round of the 2009 SoCon Tournament. This year's team boasts four returning starters in Montgomery, Davis, Bryan Friday and Andy King, a group that accounted for 70 percent of the total scoring from the 2008-09 squad. In total, Samford returned 87.3 percent of the team's scoring from last season.
Seniors Montgomery and Bryan Friday are both third-year starters, while Davis and Matthew Friday have spent most of the time entrenched in the Bulldogs' starting lineup this year.
Heading into Thursday's game at Elon, Samford's quartet of Montgomery, Davis, Bryan Friday and King have totaled 243 career starts, with Montgomery leading the way with 77. Seniors Friday and Montgomery both enter Thursday's matchup with identical totals of 854 career points.
The Bulldogs lead the SoCon in rebounding defense this season at 31.2 per game. Elon heads into the matchup as the conference's 11th-place team in the category at 40.1 rebounds allowed per contest.