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ODU Women Rally to Beat Ga. Southern and Clinch First-Round Bye in Sun Belt Tournament


En'Dya Buford led ODU with 20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals

By Harry Minium
NORFOLK, Va. – It wasn't easy, nor was it pretty, but the Old Dominion women's basketball team has earned a bye into the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
The Monarchs shot poorly, and trailed most of the way, but rallied to claim a 61-54 victory over Georgia Southern Tuesday night at Chartway Arena.
The victory guaranteed the Monarchs (21-7 overall, 12-5 Sun Belt) will finish no lower than fourth in the league standings, and the top four teams advance to the tournament quarterfinals.
The Monarchs will play on Friday, March 8, in Pensacola, Florida at a time and against an opponent to be named. The semifinals and championship game are held Sunday and Monday, respectively.
ODU closes out the regular season this Friday against James Madison at Chartway Arena. A victory would ensure that the Monarchs finish at least third. If ODU beats JMU and Troy loses its last two games, the Monarchs would finish second and enter the tournament as the second seed.
It will be Senior Night, and the Monarchs will say goodbye to nine seniors.
ODU head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones said prior to the season that her goal wasn't the regular-season championship – it was instead finishing among the top four – and is pleased the Monarchs succeeded.
After dropping a 72-64 loss at JMU on Jan. 20, the Monarchs have won nine of 11 games.
Milton-Jones said that while she's pleased ODU now has a bye, that she wants much more.
"Being in the top four, that's great," she said. "But I'm greedy.
"Marshall will win the regular-season title and that's nice. But we're all gunning for the Sun Belt championship because we want to be the team that goes dancing."
Milton-Jones said she did not tell her players they would clinch a bye by winning on Tuesday.
"I did not want to put any additional pressure on them," she said.
But En'Dya Buford said the players knew anyway.
"We definitely knew," said Buford, the senior from Memphis, Tennessee who led the Monarchs with 20 points. "We keep up with everything."

WBB-ODU's bench celebrates during the team's 61-54 win over Georgia Southern on Feb. 27, 2024
The Monarchs had a lot to celebrate about in the fourth quarter.

The Monarchs looked sluggish much of the game against Georgia Southern (14-16, 4-13), which lost for the 13th time in its last 14 games and was without senior guard Terren Ward, who averages 22.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
"You have to give them credit because their other players stepped up and just played with spirit," Milton-Jones said.
ODU trailed, 40-36, late in the third quarter and managed to tie it up, 42-42, on two Halima Salat three-pointers heading into the fourth period.
Up to that point, ODU had been stymied by an aggressive Georgia Southern matchup zone defense. The Monarchs made just 18 of their first 62 shots, or just 29 percent.
Milton-Jones said the Monarchs did much to stymie themselves.
"We helped them by settling for three-pointers rather than penetrating their zone," Milton-Jones said. "That's why (Buford) was pivotal to our success tonight to turn the game around because she attacked their zone."
The Monarchs finally found their shooting touch in the fourth quarter, making 7 of 15 (47 percent). Burford and Kaye Clark scored six apiece in the final 10 minutes.
The game was tied at 52-all with 3:10 left when Buford gave ODU the lead for good when she rebounded a missed shot and put it back in.
Mikayla Brown made it 56-52 after a Georgia Southern turnover and then Buford made a fast-break layup with 1:02 left to make it 58-52.
Following a Georgia Southern missed jump shot, Clark built the lead to eight, 60-52, off a beautiful assist from Buford, who had eight rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Jordan McLaughlin added 10 points five assists and nine rebounds.
ODU leads the series with JMU, 52-28, but has lost nine in a row to the Dukes.
"It's a big game whenever we play them," Milton-Jones said. "It's going to be a great game.
"We know we have to play better than we played tonight. If we play like we did tonight, we're going to lose by 20 or 30 points.
"We can't allow that to happen. We've got two days of practice and they're going to get us where we need to be mentally and emotionally.
"We're going to be ready to play."