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ODU Men's Basketball Starts Slow but Catches Fire in 96-56 Exhibition Victory Over Gannon


By Harry Minium

NORFOLK, Va. – After what coach Jeff Jones described as a less than stellar first half, the Old Dominion basketball team got things in gear in the second 20 minutes and blew past Gannon, 96-56, Saturday afternoon in an exhibition game at Chartway Arena.

It was the most points ODU has scored in an exhibition or regular-season game since the Monarchs downed Texas-San Antonio, 100-62, on Feb. 15, 2018.

Jones bolstered his team's shooting ability during the offseason through the transfer portal, bringing in C.J. Keyser from North Carolina Central and Charles Smith IV from SMU, and the team's new-found ability to make shots from outside showed.

Smith (4-of-7 shots) had 15 points and Keyser (6-of-10) had 12 and the Monarchs shot 55 percent as a team. ODU had six players in double figures, including Kalu Ezikpe (18 points), Jaylin Hunter, Austin Trice (13 apiece) and Mekhi Long (10).

"We're a defensive team, and defense will always be our top priority," said Hunter, the sophomore from Manchester, Connecticut. "But we're more equipped to score this year."

Gannon, a Division II school from Erie, Pa., is coached by Kelvin Jefferson, who previously coached at ODU and American University with Jones. Saturday's game was a homecoming for Jefferson, but one that he coached under difficult circumstances.

His mother, Ella Mae Jefferson, passed away Saturday morning in Raleigh, North Carolina.

"The game was a nice distraction in that I could take my mind of off things for a few hours," he said. "But it's been a tough day.

"My Mom was a single mother. She raised me and my sister while working two jobs while I was growing up. I would not be where I am today without her."

Jefferson said she's been struggling with a long-term illness and her death was not unexpected.

"Kelvin is a terrific person, a very good friend," Jones said. "He's doing a heck of a job at Gannon.

"I knew his Mom well from our time at American University. She was a great person."

ODU led Gannon by only eight, 41-33, at the half. Jones let his players know at halftime that he didn't think much of their effort – he said he gave them "an honest message" – and it got through.

ODU outscored Gannon, 11-0, to start the second half, as Smith's 3-pointer with 15:26 left gave the Monarchs a 52-33 lead. Ten minutes into the second half the lead grew to 71-40.

After coughing over 12 turnovers in the first half, the Monarchs had just one in the second half.

Ezikpe had great stats: 11 rebounds and two assists to go along with his 18 points and just one foul. Hunter had four assists and no turnovers in 32 minutes at point guard.

Ezikpe and Hunter are ODU's captains.

ODU has been dealing with injury issues. Guard A.J. Oliver III, a starter last season, will practice for the first time on Monday. Trice, Smith and freshman Imo Essien, Hunter's backup, have also missed practice.

Essien played eight minutes and although he didn't score, Jones said he liked what he saw.

Jones said it's still very early, but that he's encouraged with what he's seen so far.

 "We're just kind of getting there in terms of being healthy and getting everyone together," Jones said. "That's what makes it interesting and exciting."

Jefferson said it was great to come back to Chartway Arena and that he's impressed with the Monarchs.

"I've been looking forward to this for a long time," he said.

"Jeff and I have been trying to coordinate this ever since I left. I've known him for over 20 years. He's been my mentor.

"That's a Jeff Jones team. They played hard, they're tough and they made shots. I love what they're doing. They could be very good."

The Monarchs open the regular season against Virginia Wesleyan Wednesday night at 7 at Chartway Arena.

Season tickets are on sale for $215. Fans can select season tickets for men's games in section 108 for $110.

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