NORFOLK, Va. (ODUSports.com, Harry Minium) – The Old Dominion basketball team didn't call it revenge. But clearly, the Monarchs' 70-51 victory over Florida Atlantic Thursday night at Chartway Arena was very sweet.
When the two teams met three weeks ago in Boca Raton, the Owls blew the Monarchs out of FAU Arena, 81-62, in a game in which the home team once led by 33 points. FAU out hustled the Monarchs, outscoring ODU, 20-2, on the fast break.
Coach Jeff Jones said the 38-point turnaround was largely inspired by his team's poor effort three weeks ago.
"These guys saw the film," he said. "They saw they were out-toughed and out hustled in Boca. Our collective pride was kind of at stake.
"It wasn't so much about winning and losing. It was great that we won, but we wanted to be competitive. That was the big thing."
ODU wasn't only competitive. Led by forward Kalu Ezikpe, the Monarchs were dominant.
Ezikpe, the 6-foot-8 junior center from Atlanta, led ODU with 17 points and had a career-high 17 rebounds.
Showing little effect from a sprained ankle he suffered in ODU's last outing, a nine-point loss at Western Kentucky, Austin Trice had 14 points and seven rebounds in just 23 minutes.
There were nine lead changes and six ties in a back and forth first half, but ODU opened a small lead in the final minutes that it never lost.
ODU broke a 29-29 tie with a 7-0 run that gave the Monarchs a 36-29 lead before settling for a 4-point advantage at the break.
ODU blew the game open in the opening minutes of the second half with an 8-0 run, capped off by a layup from Oliver, that gave ODU a 44-32 lead.
Oliver followed a minute later with a three-point shot, one that would have been good in an NBA arena. He was fouled and made the foul shot to give ODU a 52-34 lead.
Long made a layup and was knocked to the floor with seven minutes left to make it 60-38, and although no foul was called, Long smiled and clapped as he slid under the basket after watching the shot go on.
Ezikpe said the loss at FAU stung he and his teammates.
"It definitely motivated us to want to get that one back," he said. "We really wanted to play well tonight."
The victory was an important one for ODU (11-17 overall, 6-9 Conference USA) and its potential seeding in the Conference USA Tournament.
The top five teams in the East Division standings get a bye into the second round of the tournament, to be held March 8-12 in Frisco, Texas.
ODU began the night tied with Florida International for fifth place in the East Division standings. FIU lost to Charlotte, giving the Monarchs a one-game lead.
The Monarchs host FIU Saturday night in what could be a critical game for tournament seeding.
"We need that game," Jones said. "It's huge.
"It could be the difference between playing on Tuesday or Wednesday.
"Our players did a great job tonight, but that game on Saturday looms large. We need to be motivated to come out and leave everything on the court."
ODU closes out the final week of the regular season with a game at Louisiana Tech on Wednesday, March 2, and then a home game against Middle Tennessee Saturday, March 5, at 2 p.m.
The Middle Tennessee game will be senior day and mark the final home game for seniors Oliver, Trice and Keyser.
Ezikpe said it's important that ODU finish strong heading into the tournament. If ODU fails to earn a first-round bye, the Monarchs would have to win five games in five days to win the tournament.
"You want to play your best basketball at the end of the year," he said. "It could give us great momentum heading into the tournament.
"It could give everyone confidence that we can get it done."