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Monarchs Defeat South Alabama, Coach Milton-Jones Earns Career Win No. 100

Photo Chuck Thomas/ODU

MOBILE, Ala. – Old Dominion women's basketball trailed 32-28 at halftime, but a 7-0 run early in the third quarter helped the Monarchs secure a 62-56 win at South Alabama on Saturday afternoon at the Mitch Center.
ODU improves to 9-2 overall and 1-0 to start Sun Belt Conference play. The victory also marked career win No. 100 for head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones, who is in her fourth season leading the program.

"I was dry the previous 99 victories, but getting the 100th I'm soaking wet," said Milton-Jones. "The team wanted to celebrate and so obviously they pulled out the cold water, but it was a great moment and I'm glad to be able to share it with them and the coaching staff and I wouldn't want it to happen with any other crew."
The Monarchs led 49-42 at the start of the fourth, but the Jags (7-6, 0-1 SBC) wouldn't go away as a 5-for-5 effort at the line highlighted a 7-0 run that cut ODU's lead to 53-51. That was as close as the home team would get. En'Dya Buford scored a jumper and a layup, Kaye Clark made both of her free throws, and Jordan McLaughlin went 1-for-2 at the line to push the lead to 60-53 with 27 seconds left in the game. USA made some late free throws to make it interesting, but the Jags were forced to foul and McLaughlin hit both of her freebies to wrap up the scoring.

Asked about a technical foul called late in the game, Milton-Jones commented, "We were able to weather the storm and come away with a big win on the road against a feisty South Alabama squad. Officiating is going to be a part of the game sometimes, but our goal is to not allow it to be. We have to manage the game better in terms of the fouls we're committing, and we have to take care of the basketball. I thought we did a better job of that tonight. We forced 28 turnovers, which is a season high. Some things I'm pleased with and there are some things I know we can still work on, but all in all a good win."
The Monarchs had 11 different players find the scoring column, with three finishing in double figures. McLaughlin went 4-for-8 from the field and knocked down 4-of-6 shots at the free-throw line to turn in a team-high 12 points, and Clark and Buford turned in a pair of 10-point efforts. Simone Cunningham and Brenda Fontana were next with eight points each, and Fontana also led ODU on the glass with seven boards.
ODU combined to shoot 25-for-66 (.379) from the floor, 5-for-18 (.278) from distance, and 7-for-14 (.500) at the line. The Monarchs also forced a season-high 28 turnovers and scored more points off turnovers (24-16), in the paint (38-24), and second-chance points (11-9).

"I'm proud of the fact that everyone played and everyone that came into the game made a contribution on the offensive and defensive end," added Milton-Jones. "I'm also pleased with the fact that we can come away with a close victory. We're showing that we can find ways to win even in adverse situations. That shows growth. For us to be able to play 10 days after our last game and coming off of Christmas break, it's hard sometimes to rally the troops and get them back focused on the task at hand. I think we settled into the game and once we got the lead, we were able to control the momentum for the most part. So overall I'm pleased."
The first quarter remained tight until Buford, Cunningham and McLaughlin scored three-straight layups to put the Monarchs in front, 12-7. A bucket from Jenny Nkem Womsi made it 16-12 at the 3:27 mark, and ODU took a 16-14 advantage into the second quarter.
That's when the Jags offense showed up. Helped by a pair of three-pointers and 4-for-5 shooting at the line, the hosts outscored ODU 18-12 in the second. Halima Salat hit a three ball from the right wing to give ODU a 20-16 lead, but South Alabama put together a 9-2 push to jump ahead, 25-22. A Naomi Smitherman basket and a Jordan Rosier three-pointer then made it 30-24 at the 4:40 mark. Clark and Cunningham then ended the scoring drought for ODU before USA's Emani Burks capped off the opening half with a 2-for-2 effort at the stripe.
Fontana got the Monarchs started in the third quarter with a deep ball from the left wing, then tied the game at 34-34 with another long ball from the top of the arc. ODU then retook the lead on a Cunningham jumper in the paint, and Fontana followed with a layup as ODU went up 38-34 with 5:32 on the clock. USA wrestled back control with five-straight points, but Ivi Nikolova answered with a three from the right corner. Less than a minute later, Mimi McCollister provided another long ball to make it 45-40, and two more baskets from McLaughlin and Clark put ODU up 49-42 heading into the final 10 minutes.

On Fontana's perimeter shooting providing a spark for the offense, Milton-Jones commented, "I pulled her to the side right before the second half started and I said 'Hey, the same Brenda Fontana that showed up against NC State, she's still you. So relax, show me that light in your eyes and come out here and light this gym up.' And she came and she hit two big threes and that really propelled our momentum in the second half and allowed us to get on a path towards victory."
ODU will be back at Chartway Arena for its next two games, beginning with a 6:30 p.m. meeting with Louisiana next Thursday, Jan. 4.

Game Notes
- The win marked the third straight in the all-time series. ODU is now 12-3 when playing the Jaguars.
- The Monarchs are now 6-0 this season when they have more assists than their opponent. ODU edged USA 8-7 after trailing 6-3 in assists at halftime.
- ODU is now 8-0 when the team out-rebounds the other team. The Monarchs collected 37 rebounds compared to 36 by the Jags.
- Milton-Jones is now 100-67 (.599) overall and 68-35 (.660) while at ODU.
- Kaye Clark finished with a season-high eight steals, one steal shy of tying her career best.