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Monarchs Improve to 2-0 With 59-48 Win Over Buffalo


NORFOLK, Va. – Buffalo fought back to within three points midway through the fourth quarter, but some late defense and strong shooting at the free-throw line allowed Old Dominion women's basketball to secure a 59-48 victory on Saturday night in the opening round of the MAC-Sun Belt Challenge.

"Coming into tonight, I expected there to be chaotic moments within play because we have 10 new players and [Buffalo head coach Becky Burke] has a roster that has been revamped," said ODU head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones. "So everyone is looking for cohesiveness and togetherness and chemistry. But all in all, even though we were tested at home, had a lead and they fought back into the game, we showed resiliency."

The Monarchs (2-0) held the lead for over 37 minutes in the game and led by as many as 15 points with just under six minutes to play in the third quarter. A couple of three-pointers from Rana Elhusseini, a jumper by Alexis Davis and a free throw by Paula Lopez got the Bulls (1-1) back to within eight points at 40-32. Jordan McLaughlin then knocked down a pair of freebies before Kirsten Lewis-Williams hit a jumper in the paint as ODU went into the final quarter leading 42-34.

Lewis-Williams started off the final stanza with a 1-for-2 effort at the line. A few possessions later, Elhusseini scored a layup to get the visitors to within 42-37 at the 7:35 mark, and a Lewis-Williams bucket at the 6:20 mark trimmed ODU's lead to 42-29. After Brenda Fontana and Elhusseini traded a pair of three balls, ODU's pressure started to become too much for Buffalo. Kaye Clark grabbed a steal and converted her layup attempt, and a Mimi McCollister takeaway led to a made basket for McLaughlin as the Monarchs got some breathing room at 49-42 with 2:51 to play.

Paula Lopez scored in the paint, but the guests were forced to start fouling. They sent Clark to the line first and she knocked down both of her shots. McLaughlin then went 1-for-2 and Simone Cunningham made both of her free throws to put the Monarchs back up by 10, 54-44 with 56 seconds on the clock. Chellia Watson made her three-point field goal with 29 ticks to go, but Cunningham and McLaughlin combined to go 4-for-4 at the line to close out the game.

Clark and McCollister both finished with 11 points to lead ODU in the win, Fontana turned in a 10-point effort with seven rebounds, and Cunningham grabbed nine boards with eight points. It wasn't the greatest of shooting performances as the Monarchs combined to go 13-for-61 from the floor, but they limited themselves to just 10 turnovers compared to Buffalo's 18. ODU also went 27-for-41 (.659) at the charity stripe.

"I saw a lot of things that I really like and appreciate from my team," continued Milton-Jones. "I saw some things we need to work on still, but we're in that moment where we're trying to mature into the team that I know that we can be. The vision is still clear for me in terms of us being a great team and playing as a well-oiled machine. It's just that we have to get through these growing pains in order to get there. But it's very rewarding and beneficial and satisfactory when you can win while you're still growing."

McLaughlin logged 38 minutes on the night, contributing eight points, seven points and three assists to the cause. The Charlotte, North Carolina native also went 5-for-8 at the free-throw line.

Asked about making her free throws late in the game, McLaughlin said, "I knew that all the misses early on, they were behind me, and I knew that my team needed me to make the two free throws. So the only thing that was on my mind was to calm my team down and I know that all of us needed to see the ball go through. When I got to the free-throw line, I was like 'Ok, if I hit these two free throws, it can change the game for us and give us the boost that we need.'"

In the first quarter, Fontana got ODU on the board and gave the Monarchs their first lead at 3-2 with a three from the left wing. Another pair of long balls by McCollister helped grow ODU's advantage to 10-5 and the home team went into the second quarter ahead 15-7. En'Dya Buford, Fontana and McCollister each got to the line and sank both of their shots to made it a double-digit lead, 26-15 at the 2:23 mark. McCollister then made an old-fashioned three-point play and Mikayla Brown shot 1-for-2 at the charity stripe as the Monarchs went into the break with a 30-18 lead.

"We have to take the lessons that we've learned from this game and from Lincoln and we have to have carry over," said Milton-Jones. "We have to be able to apply the new lessons that we've learned to the new opportunities that we face. We have great conversations and when we slow things down and we're able to teach, I think that it becomes clearer to them what the objective is. And now that our principles are clear, our decision making can be easy."

ODU is back on its home court on Tuesday when the Monarchs host Xavier for a 6:30 p.m. game at Chartway Arena. Replicas of the Nancy Lieberman statue that stands outside of the Mitchum Performance Center will be given out to fans on a first come, first served basis.

"We are primed and ready for Xavier," added Milton-Jones. "There are things that they do that are kind of similar to what Buffalo does that us preparing for them should be a smooth transition for Tuesday."