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ODU Got It's First Blowout Basketball Victory of 2020, and It W

302sports 392 Feb 10

                                 (Curry, ODU)

By Harry Minium

Basketball can be unforgiving. You miss a rebound here or a few easy jumpers there and before you know it, you've lost a close game.

That's happened far too often to Old Dominion this season. The Monarchs have lost six games this season by 3 points or less, one short of tying the school record, and 11 games by 7 points or less.

And it's been especially frustrating recently. In ODU's six losses since the New Year, the average margin has been 3.3 points. If the Monarchs had won those games, they would be 12-0 in Conference USA. Instead, ODU is 10-15 overall and 6-6 in the league.  

"We've played so hard, but at the end of games, we just haven't made the plays we need to," coach Jeff Jones said.

Saturday night, two nights after a frustrating, 85-81, overtime loss to Texas-San Antonio, the Monarchs made sure to put away the game early against UTEP.

ODU got 18 points and eight assists from Malik Curry, (St Elizabeth) and 15 points and 10 rebounds from Kalu Ezipke and crushed UTEP, 72-53. It was ODU's largest victory margin since a 24-point victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Dec. 22.

With the Monarchs attired in throwback, Columbia blue jerseys on alumni night before a jazzed-up crowd of 6,820, this game had a festive feel that has been missing for a long time. The Monarchs smiled and exchanged fist bumps with teammates, and with some fans in courtside seats, far more often than usual as the final minutes ran off the clock.


"Oh, it feels good to win," Jones said. "It's been a tough road for us, so every time you have the chance to experience this feeling, it's a good one.

"I told our guys be smart, be responsible. But if you're going do this and fight through all of the negative stuff, there definitely should be some joy when you win like this."

Ezipke, Joe Reece (10 points, 2 assists), Xavier Green (13 points, four assists) and Aaron Carver (11 points, 14 rebounds, two blocked shots) not only played well offensively, they played stellar defense against Bryson Williams, the 6-foot-8, standout UTEP forward whose presence attracted an NBA scout Saturday.

Williams had 16 points and 9 rebounds, but with Carver shouldering the bulk of the work, he was far from dominant.

"I thought we really made him work," Jones said. "We knew we couldn't stop him but wanted him to work for everything."

The victory salvaged ODU's long-shot hopes of making the top tier of Conference USA bonus play, held the final two weeks of the season. Bonus play matches the top five teams, the next five and then the lowest four in four round-robin games.

Make the top tier and you have a shot to finish fourth or higher in the final standings, and thus earn one of four first-round byes in the C-USA tournament.

Teams with a first-round bye must win three games in three days to win the C-USA title. And while that's hard enough, finish outside of the top four and you've got to win four games in four days, a much more difficult task for a team like ODU, whose depth is shallow.

ODU won with six players accounting for a combined 197 of 200 minutes played.

ODU (10-15, 6-6 C-USA) is tied with Marshall and Florida Atlantic for sixth and needs to win at Rice Thursday and first-place North Texas Saturday to have any hope.

The Monarchs will also need help from other teams. The bonus play schedule will be announced next Sunday.

"You've got to be a math major to figure out all that stuff right now," Jones said. "I know we're 6-6 and there are a whole bunch of teams right in front of us or right behind us.

"The only way to separates ourselves is to win. We've got a big, big trip in Texas."

Jones generally eschews playing a zone defense, but went to it in the first half when Carver, Reece and Ezipke all had two fouls. The zone not only kept them in the game, it disrupted UTEP's offense and the Monarchs used a 9-0 run to close out the first half with a 34-25 lead.

UTEP (13-12, 4-8 C-USA) got as close as seven points only once in the second half.

As difficult as this season has been, Jones credits his players for never quitting. Curry said letting down is the farthest thing from their minds.

"We've got players here that love to play basketball, so it's not hard to stay together," he said.

"We're brothers and you're going to fight for your brother."

Pausing, he then said: "We really needed this."

Yes they did.

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