The struggling Old Dominion University Monarchs faced off against the Towson University Tigers in a thrilling conference rivalry game that rocked the Ted Constant Center this past Wednesday. The Monarchs (2-18) were coming into this game following a 56-46 loss to James Madison, the most recent addition to the now seven-game losing streak. The Tigers (11-12), much improved since last season, looked to leave Norfolk with a victory and end their own losing streak of three games. In last season’s matchup, the Monarchs dismantled the Tigers in both meetings, keeping them at bay by at least 30 points in each game. Despite Old Dominion’s prior success against Towson, the Tigers looked to make a change of pace.
Immediately following the tip off, the Monarchs appeared to be unprepared for the Towson offense. The Tigers came out and lit up the Monarchs defense in the first half, shooting 60 percent from the three-point line. For much of the first half, turnovers were a recurring issue for Old Dominion. Towson’s defense found much success in capitalizing off steals and wasted Monarch possessions. After dominating on both ends of the floor and leading by as many as 16 points, Towson headed to the locker room with a 40-26 lead at the half. With only 36 percent of their shots being made and a mere 26 points to show for it, the Monarchs appeared to be on their heels and out of ideas.
The next 20 minutes of basketball were a completely different story. Coming out onto the floor for the second half, the Monarchs and the Tigers seemed to be exact opposites of their first-half selves. The moment the ball was in play, Old Dominion was all over it. A once sure-handed Towson offense became careless, turning the ball over 16 times and allowing the Monarchs to score off most of them. Sparked by their newfound determination, the Monarchs went on an incredible 17-2 run to take a 43-42 lead over the Tigers with 11:28 left in the game. From then on, a battle ensued and several players made it known they were prepared to go the distance.
Starting forward DeShawn Painter, after a quiet first half, found the range and shot over 50 percent from the field in the second half. Fellow big man and teammate Richard Ross, despite an injured right hand, contributed to the action with 13 points and five monstrous blocks, all while using his left hand. When asked where the use of his left hand came from, Ross simply responded, “from not having a right hand.” Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was from Dimitri Batten, who came off the bench and picked up 15 key points along with two blocks of his own.
Although the Monarch morale had been lifted and the tone of the game had changed, it was still not enough and the Tigers held on to narrowly win 68-66. Even in the midst of the loss, ODU head coach Blaine Taylor was pleased with his team’s perseverance. “Getting down double digits, being down 14 points at half, and then getting back ahead is quite an achievement,” Taylor said. “There are a lot of positives to cling to. Obviously, the negatives are we didn’t win and we don’t have a great record. But the positives are how the kids keep fighting and how we come back, get ahead, and have a chance.” In agreement with his coach, even Ross couldn’t help but address their comeback. “Just the simple fact that we were down big at halftime, we were able to battle back and have a chance to win, and it ended up being a two point game, shows that if we come out early, ready to play, and put two halves of basketball together, it would be scary to see what we can do,” Ross said.
Even with positive notions going around, a discussion over a dunk missed early in the second half by Richard Ross had arisen and many were considering that to be the deciding basket. When asked why he missed the dunk, Ross admitted that he was concerned with landing correctly. Coach Taylor was quick to defend Ross. “He’s pretty courageous at attacking the basket, but you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have a little bit of a thought when you jump up that you would be careful where you land, “ Taylor said with a laugh. “That’s why we have parachutes.”
As a young team, Taylor’s squad has room for improvement in the games that follow. With another game in their rearview, the Monarchs can walk away with more confidence in their team as they make adjustments to prepare for the remainder of the season.
By: Evans Sparks