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ODU Basketball Team Falls to Red-Hot WKU, 77-60, Saturday Night


By Harry Minium

NORFOLK, Va. – Old Dominion could not keep pace with a Western Kentucky basketball team that was red hot from beyond the arc, and had a 7-foot-5 center anchoring a swarming zone defense, and saw its winning streak end at two games.

WKU made half of its shots and 12 of 28 three-point shots (43 percent) and rolled past ODU, 77-60, at Chartway Arena.

ODU (9-13 overall, 4-5 Conference USA) had broken a four-game losing streak with two impressive victories – 68-52 over Charlotte and a 79-64 blowout of Marshall – in its last two home games, and hoped to end a three-game home stand with an unbeaten record.

But WKU (12-11, 4-6) played up to its expectations Saturday night, something the Hilltoppers haven't always done this season. WKU was 9-5 against a murderous non-conference schedule that included upset victories over Ole Miss and Louisville and losses against four power league schools.

Yet entering Saturday's game, the Hilltoppers had lost six of their first nine C-USA games and find themselves in the bottom half of the East Division.

"This is the kind of day that you've got to tip your hat to the opponent," ODU coach Jeff Jones said. "We didn't have any answers.

"Offensively, they hit big shots. And defensively their zone kept us off balance the entire evening. We never really got into much of a rhythm."   

ODU hit the floor with a ton of intensity, and buoyed by eight early points from Kalu Ezikpe, took a 20-13 lead midway through the first half on a Jaylin Hunter layup.

The Hilltoppers then went into a zone defense and began bombing away from outside, and that turned the tide.

Jamarion Sharp, a 7-5 junior college transfer, roamed underneath the basket on defense. Sharp, who leads the nation in shot blocking, had five blocks and scored 10 of his 11 points on alley-oop dunks.

"He altered a lot of shots that he didn't block," said Ezikpe, who had 16 points, six rebounds and six assists in nearly 36 minutes.

The Hilltoppers outscored ODU, 17-2, over an eight minute stretch, with Luke Frampton, a transfer from Davidson, making three-point shots on four consecutive possessions to lead the WKU surge.

C.J. Keyser finally broke the scoring drought for ODU on a layup with 2:38 left, but from that point on the Monarchs played from behind.

Ezikpe made a layup to trim the lead to five in the opening seconds of the second half, but Frampton and Jarius Hamilton made back-to-back three-pointers to rebuild the lead to 10 just 70 seconds into the second half.

It was that way the rest of the game. Each time ODU threatened to come back, the Hilltoppers would make big shots, even without Frampton, who limped off the court early in the second half with an injury.

Keyser led ODU with 19 points Austin Trice led all rebounders with 13. Stymied by Sharp, and aggressive play from WKU'S other defenders, Trice failed to score in double figures for the first time in nine games. He finished with eight.

"We practiced against a zone more this week more than we ever have, but it's hard to replicate a 7-foot-5 guy that is active and effective," Jones said. "He's not just 7-foot-5. He's athletic and does a good job.

"Was our defense great today? No. But I'm not sure what the answer is when they're shooting like this. They were shooting three or four feet outside" the arc.

ODU faces a difficult three games in the upcoming week.

The Monarchs plays Tuesday at Florida Atlantic, a contest postponed from New Year's Day because of the pandemic. FAU (14-9, 7-3) has won six of its last seven games and leads the East Division.

The Monarchs then travel to second place Middle Tennessee State (14-7, 5-3) on Thursday and host UAB (18-5, 8-2) at 2 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday.

"We've got a big week in front of us," Jones said. "We've got to turn our focus to FAU.

"That game looms really large. We've got to be ready to play the best possible game we can."