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ODU Men's Basketball Drops a Heartbreaker to UTEP, 78-70, in Overtime

Post-Game Press Conference

By Harry Minium

NORFOLK, Va. – It's difficult to imagine the Old Dominion basketball team losing a game in more excruciating fashion that how the Monarchs did Saturday night.

ODU rallied from an eight-point deficit with a 15-0, late-game run that gave the Monarchs what seemed like a comfortable, 63-56, lead over UTEP with a little more than a minute left.

But the Miners scored the last seven points in regulation and then rolled past the Monarchs in overtime, 78-70.

Center Austin Trice continues to play what coach Jeff Jones called the best basketball of his career. The senior from Chicago scored 19 points and had 20 rebounds.

Kalu Ezikpe, ODU's other big man, added 19 points and seven rebounds in spite being forced to miss practice all but one day this past week after testing positive for COVID.

In some ways the Monarchs were dominant. ODU outrebounded UTEP, 52-36, and outscored the Miners, 35-16, from the foul line

But it was a game the Monarchs (7-9 overall, 2-1 Conference USA) lost because they simply couldn't put the ball in the basket. While Trice and Ezipke combined to make 10 of 18 shots, the rest of the team made just seven of 36, or 19.4 percent.

ODU made just one of 15 three-point shots.

UTEP (9-8, 2-3) made 27 of 66 shots (41 percent) and 7 of 29 three-pointers.

ODU led, 63-56, with 1:17 left after C.J. Keyser made two free throws to finish off the 15-0 run that had a crowd of 4,528 on its feet roaring.

UTEP's Tydus Verhoeven then made one of two free throws to end a five-minute scoring drought and pull the Miners within six with 1:08 left.

ODU's Charles Smith IV lofted a three-point shot nine seconds later that missed and UTEP's Jamari Sibley responded by swishing a three-pointer with 39 seconds left to cut the lead to three.

ODU's A.J. Oliver II then had two free throws rim out, UTEP rebounded and Jamari Bieniemy swished a fallaway three-point shot to knot the score at 63-all with 19 seconds left.

Jaylin Hunter's three-pointer missed with ten seconds left and then Ezikpe rebounded missed a hasty follow shot as time was about to expire to send the game into OT.

ODU only had six players practice most of the week, and Jones said that his team had tired legs in overtime.

Keyser tied the score, 67-67, midway through overtime with a jump shot in the lane, but then UTEP dominated the rest of the way.

Souley Boum, who led UTEP with 28 points, made a three-pointer and then two free throws apiece on the next two possessions to push the Miners to a 74-67 lead with 50 seconds left. ODU never got closer than six the rest of the way.

Asked if Smith should have waited before shooting with under a minute left in overtime, Jones said perhaps so.

"But if he makes that, in all honesty the game is over," he said. "That's one in hindsight, maybe we should have used some clock. But he's a good shooter.

"And he saw it coming. As he's coming out, he asks the bench, 'Should I shoot this, should I shoot this.' Everybody to the right of me said, 'yeah, yeah.'

"If it goes in, it looks great. But it didn't."

Trice came into Saturday night having averaged 17 points and 8.8 rebounds in ODU's previous five games. He likely played the best game of his career Saturday and ODU was particularly effective inside when he and Ezikpe were both in the game.

"Austin was a beast," Jones said. "He's just been playing great basketball. The duo of Austin and Kalu is something we're going to be working on as we go forward more and more."

"We need to get other people around him playing at that level."

"I love playing with Austin," Ezikpe added. "Every time one of our guards shoots, one of us is going to get a hand on the ball."

ODU plays its next three games on the road: at Rice on Jan. 20, at North Texas on Jan. 22 and at Charlotte on Jan. 26. The Monarchs don't play at home again until Saturday, Jan. 29, then they host Charlotte.

"It just didn't happen for us down the stretch," Jones said. "We've got to own it and try to get better."