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ODU Men's Basketball Team Claims Super Bowl Sunday Win Over Highly-Touted UAB, 81-72


By Harry Minium

NORFOLK, Va. – An Old Dominion basketball team that has been through so much disappointment, frustration and pain this season claimed a simply joyful victory on Super Bowl Sunday.

The Monarchs upended UAB, the top-rated team in Conference USA, 81-72, and played with all the poise and consistency that has been missing so much of this season.

And the Monarchs did so on national TV – the game was broadcast on ESPNU.

While coach Jeff Jones would not say it as the biggest victory of the season, given the circumstances, it was most certainly the most memorable to date.

ODU (10-15 overall, 5-7 Conference USA) entered the game at a low ebb. The Monarchs lost three in a row last week, all by 15 points or more, and had lost seven of their last nine games.

UAB (19-6, 8-3 C-USA), meanwhile, entered the game ranked 44th nationally in the NCAA NET rankings, and had recently been considered the league's only potential at-large NCAA Tournament candidate. If there was any hope of an at-large bid, it likely ended on Sunday.

"We didn't just get beat" in the last three games, Jones said. "We got blown out.

"Plenty of people I'm sure said about us, 'they're done, put a fork in them.'

"Losing is hard. This past week with all that went through, it can just rip your guts out.

"But we got a hell of a win against a really good team. I'm so proud of our guys and how they played today."

While pep talks don't work as in real life as they do in Hollywood, Jones and forward Mekhi Long both gave the Monarchs pep talks that seemed to resonate.

Following ODU's 63-48 loss at Middle Tennessee last week, Long challenged his teammates with a blistering, postgame tongue lashing that Jones said could not be repeated in front of polite company.

Long rarely says much in the locker room.

"When Mekhi, spoke, they listened," Jones said.

"They took it to heart."

He challenged his teammates to get it together, to play with a chip on their shoulder, to essentially quit crying in their beer and just get tougher.

"I told them that it was time for us to start pushing other teams around," Long said.

Then, just before the team headed on the court Sunday, Jones reminded his players that while you need to play tough, you also need to have fun.

"Sometimes when you're pressing so hard and want so badly to turn things around, you lose sight of the fact that the game is something we love, something we get so much happiness out of, and that you're playing with guys you love," he said.

"I kept telling the guys today as the game progressed how much I enjoyed watching them play, how much I enjoyed watching them have fun."

The Monarchs won by doing the little things well – they played solid defense, with patience offensively and when possible, pounded the ball inside.

Forced to play a zone defense because of early foul trouble, the Monarchs played it brilliantly. UAB was largely forced to take outside jump shots.

And in spite of facing a full-court press much of the game, ODU committed just seven turnovers.

Point guard Jaylin Hunter had one of his best games of the season – he scored 13 points, made 9 of 10 free throws, had seven assists and played tough defense against UAB guard Jordan Walker, who had 20 points, but made just 4 of 15 shots.

Long was outstanding on both sides of the court. He had 17 points, seven rebounds and a career high five steals.

Austin Trice continued his spectacular play for the Monarchs with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Kalu Ezikpe was limited to 21 minutes by foul trouble, but had 11 points and five rebounds.

ODU trailed, 37-30, late in the first half but then erased that lead with a 7-0 run capped off by a driving layup and a free throw from Trice with 29 seconds left.

The teams exchanged baskets until A.J. Oliver II, who had been mired in a long shooting slump, swished a fallaway three-pointer with 16:46 that seemed to give the Monarchs a spark. It gave ODU a 46-41 lead, one the Monarchs held the rest of the game.

UAB twice trimmed the margin to two, the last time 55-53 with 11:50 to play. But then ODU pulled away, scoring eight unanswered points capped by a Trice three-point play that gave ODU a 63-53 lead.

Hunter made two free throws with 3:10 left that gave ODU a 15-point lead, and while UAB trimmed it to seven with a minute to go, it was too little, too late.

ODU has six C-USA games remaining this season – the Monarchs are at Marshall Thursday and Western Kentucky Saturday – before the league tournament in Frisco, Texas.

Jones believes his team has what takes to make a surprise tournament run.

"I've always believed we could be a good basketball team when we put all the pieces together, he said. "We don't have that one guy who can do it all, but when all of our guys do their jobs, we can all put it together.

"We did that today, but we've got to continue to do that."

Long added: "If we can keep taking care of the ball and playing tough, we can beat anybody.

"We just beat a big-dog team. We know we can beat anyone else on our schedule."