NORFOLK, Va. (Harry Minium, ODUSports.com) - It wasn't a thing of beauty, as Old Dominion rolled up a large lead early on. The game at times had a playground feel to it.
Nonetheless, ODU's 77-57 basketball victory over Virginia Wesleyan Tuesday night at Chartway Arena sends the Monarchs into the Christmas break with a boost of confidence and a dose of momentum.
Trice, a senior transfer from Kansas State, would finish with a career-high 27 points and tie his career high with 12 rebounds.
The Marlins returned four starters from a team that went 23-5 last season, but the difference in size and strength between Division III and Division I became apparent early on.
"Virginia Wesleyan was undermanned inside," said ODU head coach Jeff Jones.
Wesleyan had a difficult time finding the basket against the taller Monarchs, missing 13 of their first 14 shots. ODU, meanwhile, scored most of its points from inside the lane. The Monarchs had seven dunks and 15 layups, accounting for 44 of their points.
"Austin just played like an absolute bear inside," Jones said. "He knew there was nobody inside who could stop him. He just took it to the rim. His teammates recognized it and got him the ball."
"He's a very aggressive guy. He kept it simple and is a very strong young man and when he plays like that, he can be very good."
Despite being limited to 12 minutes with foul trouble, Ezikpe finished with 15 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots.
Joe Reece, the 6-foot-8 junior from St. Louis, played outstanding defense, with two steals and two blocked shots. He also scored 10 points and had five rebounds.
The Monarchs (4-2) were disappointing in a 77-54 loss at VCU but have since rebounded with a 66-62 victory over Northeastern, in which they played with poise down the stretch, and Tuesday's convincing victory over Wesleyan.
Jones said he was concerned about ODU's inconsistency against Wesleyan, as he has been since the season began. But he said the victory gives the team a positive feeling heading into Christmas.
"That's why this game is scheduled at this time," Jones said. "In past years we have scheduled a buy game. It's the end of the semester, the guys have just gotten out of exams. Everyone is looking ahead to the break."
"And even though the break this year is going to be different than most, this game is scheduled to try to get the win and feel good as we prepare to jump into conference play."
ODU won't play again until New Year's Day, when the Monarchs open their Conference USA season at Florida International with a two-game stand.
ODU expanded the lead to 24 points, 52-28, on an Ezikpe dunk with 14:21 left. The Monarchs then took their foot off the gas, much to the chagrin of Jones, allowing the Marlins to briefly cut into the lead.
Damon Showers, a senior from Virginia Beach, made a three-pointer to trim the margin to 11 with 9:22 to go. But ODU then went on a 9-1 run, finished off by an Xavier Green dunk, that built the lead to 19. The Marlins never again threatened.
"At halftime, I told our players that in spite of the 20-point lead, we had not played well," Jones said.
"Yes, we wanted to win the game and we respect Virginia Wesleyan's program. But it wasn't about beating Virginia Wesleyan. It was about playing up to the standard we have set here.
"At times, we did some really good stuff. At times, there was some inconsistency."
"It's not that we aren't capable. We are. It's are we capable of doing it over and over again?"
"I describe that as grinding, and grinding can get monotonous. But it wins games."
Jones will give the players a break from practice until after Christmas. During a recent meeting with seven upper-classmen, the players discussed what to do over the holidays, and then volunteered not to go home for Christmas. They voted to stay in Norfolk to avoid putting themselves at risk of coming down with COVID-19.
In return, Jones and his wife, Danielle, will feed the players on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, before resuming practice.
"I want the players to enjoy some time off," Jones said. "It's been a long time coming. We've practiced so much because so many games were canceled."
"They need to have an opportunity to enjoy themselves while still being safe."