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Minium: Comeback Win Against Marshall Bodes Well for ODU Basketball Team as it Heads into Stretch Run


By Harry Minium
Many of you surely remember the last time Old Dominion's basketball team erased a school-record 21-point deficit and won in spectacular fashion. I know it's a night I'll never forget.
It was January 5, 2019, and ODU opened the game with a six-minute scoring drought and allowed Western Kentucky to take a 21-0 lead. The near-sellout crowd watched on their hands as the Hilltoppers opened what seemed to be an unsurmountable advantage.
But as the Monarchs finally began to claw their way back into the game, the fans screamed their lungs out and ODU rallied to win in the final seconds, 69-66.
That was the first time that season I thought the team really had what it took to win a Conference USA championship, something the Monarchs did two months later when they defeated WKU in the C-USA championship game.
No one, much less coach Jeff Jones, thinks the Monarchs have yet shown they are a championship team so far this season. The Monarchs (9-5, 5-3 C-USA) travel to Charlotte Wednesday night ranked sixth among Conference USA in the NCAA NET rankings.
As forward Joe Reece said Saturday night following an 87-67 loss to Marshall, "we still have a lot of work left to do."
Nonetheless, their comeback against Marshall Friday night was even more epic than stunning comeback against WKU two years ago and it deserves to be celebrated. It also shows this team, while perhaps not as talented as the Monarchs were in 2019, has the same heart.
ODU was without two starters, Malik Curry, their leading scorer and playmaker, and shooting guard, A.J. Oliver II. Neither was available that night and both are questionable for the Charlotte game. And consider that the team lost Jason Wade, its best player, to a preseason injury.
The Monarchs were down to nine players, including one freshman who rarely plays. And because of positive COVID testing within the program had not played in three weeks and had practiced only three times last week.
Marshall (10-5, 5-5) is better than its record. The Herd has been haunted by COVID problems all season and has played shorthanded most of the season. As Jones said, point guard Jarrod West (12.5 points, 6.3 assists per game) is the best in the league and forward Taevion Kinsey (19.8 points. 6.3 rebounds) is an NBA prospect.
The Herd had practiced, but hadn't played, for two weeks, and thus came to Norfolk with fresh legs.
All signs pointed to two, blowout Marshall victories.
Marshall took control early Friday, led by 14 at the half and extended the lead to 21, 56-35, early in the second half.
The ODU comeback began with a jump shot from Kalu Ezikpe with 16:46 to go, followed by an Ezikpe layup, a steal by Ezikpe that led to a Joe Reece layup and foul shot, a jumper from Jaylin Hunter, a layup by Austin Trice, and an inside jumper by Alfis Pilavios.
The Pilavios shot came at 14:14, followed by a hastily called Marshall timeout. ODU had outscored Marshall 13-0 in 2 ½ minutes and knocked the Herd back on their feet.
Darius George broke the ice for Marshall with a dunk. But by then momentum had swung ODU's way and the Monarchs continued to scorch the Herd.
With 9:39 left, Ezikpe tied the score at 63-63. ODU eventually built a six-point lead, only to see Taylor Andrew give Marshall an 81-80 advantage with 1:24 left.
Ezikpe, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds, then dunked ODU to an 82-81 lead and the Monarchs held firm with three defensive stands in the last minute.
At the end, the crowd stood and cheered. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, only 250 were allowed in Chartway Arena.
Fittingly, among those watching was the family of Sonny Allen, the deceased former ODU coach who was honored this past weekend. He played and coached at Marshall, but won a national title at ODU. And his family, attired in ODU blue and white, let it be known that the Monarchs are their team.
Joel Rubin, a former journalist who runs a Virginia Beach public relations firms, is a dyed-in-the-wool ODU fan, even though he graduated from the University of Virginia. It was his first live game at ODU this season, courtesy of a couple of tickets given to him by his daughter-in-law's company.
He described the game as well as I could.
As ODU came back, he said, "I was sick because I've been to so many games where we've come from behind but there are 7,000 people in the stands going crazy. I know I'm seeing an historic comeback. but I didn't know how historic until the game ended.
"It was all the players. They dug down so deep. Marshall had more talent and was taller and had the huge lead. I saw a game for the ages but for the most part, everybody's got to take my word for it because the pandemic has robbed this team of an audience.
"They really deserved one for this game. If this game had been on national TV, people would have been talking about it for years to come."
Marshall came back Saturday night and asserted itself against the shorthanded, weary Monarchs, winning by 20.
Under the circumstances, a split was a good weekend for ODU.
As the season continues, and Curry and Oliver eventually return to the lineup, you hope Friday's epic victory becomes a defining characteristic of this team.
"This is just who we are," Ezikpe said. "We never stop, we never quit. We didn't quit two years ago against Western Kentucky.
"We keep fighting."
Even though they were out of gas Saturday night, the Monarchs kept playing hard. This team indeed doesn't quit, even when outmanned.
And that bodes well for the final four weeks of the regular season.
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