NORFOLK, Va. (ODUSports.com) – For the first time in a long time, the Old Dominion basketball team had fun. The Monarchs hit the floor Saturday night at Chartway Arena with a determined and yet relaxed attitude and broke a four-game losing streak with style.
ODU took an 11-0 lead in the first six minutes and expanded it to 25 midway through the second half to run away with a 68-52 victory over Charlotte that was never in doubt.
ODU (8-12 overall, 3-4 Conference USA) had not won a game since Jan. 13, when the Monarchs blew past Texas-San Antonio, 83-51.
In three of four games since, including a 71-67 loss at Charlotte on Wednesday, the Monarchs led late in the second half but did not make the plays, nor the shots, they needed to close the games out.
ODU had lost eight of its last 10 and held late leads in five of the defeats.
"It's nice to get a win, it's as simple as that," Jones said.
"It's been frustrating, it's been hard on all of us. But the guys have hung in there, they've hung together and continued working hard.
"Getting this win is really a good feeling. It's a load off all of our guys. I hope we can smartly and maturely and enjoy this win before we come back on Monday and earn the right to win against Marshall."
The Monarchs next game is Thursday at home against Marshall.
Austin Trice [odusports.com], the graduate transfer from Kansas State, continued to be a dominant player for the Monarchs. The 6-foot-7 senior from Chicago scored a game-high 22 points and added 10 rebounds and, as always, brought plenty of energy to the floor.
In his last seven games, he has averaged almost 19 points and more than 11 rebounds per game.
"We really needed this win coming off a couple of losses," Trice said. "We worked hard, and we were able to get it done tonight. It felt great to get this one."
C.J. Keyser [odusports.com], the graduate transfer from North Carolina Central, had 16 points and Mekhi Long [odusports.com] 11 points and 11 rebounds. Long was an ironman, playing 38 minutes and 21 seconds.
Imo Essien [odusports.com], the freshman point guard from Wylie, Texas, had four points and two assists but his contributions weren't adequately reflected in the box score. With both forward Kalu Ezikpe [odusports.com] and point guard Jaylin Hunter [odusports.com] in foul trouble, Jones put Essien in the game to give Hunter a breather.
But he played so well that Jones left him in most of the second half.
"Imo went in and didn't miss a beat," Jones said. "He went in and didn't try to make difficult plays. The other guys were in position and he allowed them to make the plays.
"And he worked really, really hard guarding (Charlotte guard) Jahmir Young, which is not an easy feat."
ODU made just 1 of 13 three-point shots but made 26 of 56 (46.4 percent) from the field, with 28 ODU points coming in the paint.
The Monarchs looked more relaxed and more self-confident than usual and that may have been a result of two meetings.
Trice said the players met earlier this week.
"This last week we had a team bonding day," he said. "We got our feel back for each other."
While Jones said that losing has been difficult, he said players never got down.
"The mood has been good," he said. "I haven't sensed guys being tight."
But he reminded the players during Saturday's shootaround that "we don't want to play not to lose. Want to play to win."
"Let's make sure we know what we need to do. Let's have fun doing it and go out and play," Jones added
They did from the opening whistle.
Long made a steal and dunked ODU to an 11-0 lead 5 1/2 minutes into the game. Charlotte missed 14 of its first 16 shots and did not score until Robert Braswell, a Syracuse transfer, made two free throws with more than six minutes gone.
Charlotte then trimmed the lead to seven with nine minutes to go in the first half. But buoyed by a fallaway, three-pointer from A.J. Oliver II [odusports.com] as the shot clock buzzed, the Monarchs scored seven unanswered points and Charlotte never got close again.
Long made a driving layup with five minutes left to give ODU a 30-12 lead.
ODU led, 48-25, with 12:49 left in the game, but Jones was off the bench, clapping his hands, urging his players not to let down.
They didn't. Oliver made two free throws with 8:04 left to give ODU a 25-point lead.
Jones cleared his bench in the final minutes, and both Keyser and Trice drew a nice ovation from the crowd of 4,632, which braved the elements after a snow storm blanketed Hampton Roads Friday night.
It was the annual Coaches Vs. Cancer game for ODU and Jones, a prostate cancer survivor, wore shoes painted by Ezikpe, who is a talented artist. Coaches Vs. Cancer operates with the American Cancer Society and has raised tens of millions of dollars for cancer research.
Coaches all around the country wear suits and sneakers for a night in order to raise cancer awareness.
"They do a great job of raising money," Jones said. "And they're saving lives.
"This suits and sneakers weekend is a big deal to me and to coaches around the country.
"I'm proud of my profession. It's a simple thing. It's not real difficult to get dressed up in shoes and sneakers.
"But the fact that everyone so willingly does is something that makes me proud. It was extra neat tonight wearing the shoes that Kalu decorated."