NORFOLK, Va. (ODUSports.com, Harry Minium) – Trailing by eight points with 44 seconds left, the road-weary Old Dominion women's basketball team shook off the fatigue of playing two games in less than two days and nearly staged a miraculous comeback.
Iggy Allen, who led ODU with 21 points, had a chance to send the game into overtime when she began to attempt a three-point shot with .8 seconds left. But the ball was slapped away by Columbia's Nicole Stephens before she could get a shot off, and the Lions escaped with a 62-59 victory in the second round of the WNIT.
ODU's coaches protested, saying a foul should have been called, but replays showed it was a clean block.
Columbia (24-6) goes on to meet Boston College or Quinnipiac in the WNIT Sweet 16.
ODU ended the season with a 24-10 record, which is remarkable given that the Monarchs began the season with 10 newcomers and lost three key players to injuries.
ODU advanced to Sunday's game with a 72-66 victory at Towson in one of the Monarchs' best games of the season.
Coach DeLisha Milton-Jones said "this is only the beginning.
"I love the fact that we got these reps in the postseason. These reps breed success. We're grateful that we were able to play in the WNIT.
"When you have an opportunity to play in the postseason, you can change the conversation in the summer time (with recruits). This is a perfect segue and springboard for us to go dancing."
Columbia appeared to have all but sealed the victory when Kaitlyn Davis made two free throws with 44 seconds left to give the Lions a 60-52 lead.
ODU's comeback began when Mariah Adams made a short jump shot with 38 seconds left and was fouled. She missed the foul shot, which was rebounded by Allen, who was knocked to the floor by Davis.
Allen then made two free throws to trim the lead to four.
Davis then threw the ball out of bounds, and the Monarchs had another chance to slice into the lead. Amari Young and Brianna Jackson both missed shots, but Young pulled down the rebound with nine seconds left.
She passed the ball to Jackson, who made a three-pointer with six seconds remaining to trip the lead to one, 60-59.
Stephens then made one of two free throws to build the lead to two. After an ODU timeout, Jackson missed a short hook shot with a second left.
Columbia's Jaida Patrick then made one of two free throws, with ODU rebounding the miss and calling a quick timeout.
That set up Allen's potential tying shot that she was unable to get off.
The Monarchs are ranked 23rd in defense nationally and usually force far more turnovers than their opponents. But Columbia forced 22 ODU turnovers and had 15 steals to ODU's 11.
Milton-Jones said that while she was grateful for the WNIT bid, she was unhappy with how the games were scheduled.
ODU played Friday night in Towson, Maryland, and then didn't arrive back in Norfolk until 3:30 a.m. Saturday. The Monarchs then turned around 26 hours later to play against Columbia.
Columbia defeated Holy Cross in its first round game at home on Wednesday, and then had two days to rest before traveling to Norfolk Saturday.
"I don't think that is fair," Milton-Jones said.
"If we're looking at the well-being of the student athlete, this shouldn't happen. It does not happen in the NCAA Tournament.
"Fatigue most definitely had everything to do with our turnovers. When we're fatigued, it shows itself in a different way. We're still uber-athletic. But when we're fatigued, it has an element of us being out of control."
Columbia appeared discombobulated by ODU's pressure defense in the first quarter, committing eight turnovers and missing 12 of its first 14 shots.
The Monarchs took advantage to quickly move to a 12-5 lead. But then Hannah Pratt and Abbey Hsu made back-to-back 3-point shots to quickly narrow the lead to 12-11 and then led 27-23 at halftime.
Midway through the third period, the Monarchs trailed, 40-29, but managed to come back in spite of fatigue and some curious calls by the refereeing crew.
Early in the fourth quarter, ODU had trimmed the lead to 45-42 when Columbia star Hsu, the All-Ivy League star, fell out of bounds with the ball. After she landed on the floor, an official ruled that a timeout had been called.
Milton-Jones protested and was quickly given a technical foul. Neither the timeout, nor the technical foul, appeared warranted under the circumstances. They cost ODU a possession and two points as Hannah Pratt made two free throws to make the lead 47-42.
"It should not have been a timeout called. That's how I saw it, and I'm adamant about it," Milton-Jones said.
"I also feel in that moment, for her to be so quick with the tech" wasn't appropriate.
But in the end, it wasn't the tech that lost the game, it was ODU's turnovers. Columbia outscored ODU, 24-7, on points off of turnovers.
"We tried to fight through fatigue," Young said. "But we all had heavy legs."
She was nonetheless glad to have one more home game.
"It definitely felt good to come back to Chartway Arena one more time," she said. "But I'm disappointed because I felt like we should have won this game."
The game was Allen's final at ODU. She transferred to ODU from Florida Atlantic, and said she's glad she did.
"I feel like I became a better teammate, a better player, a better student of the game," she said.
"If Coach D had been at Old Dominion and she had recruited me out of high school, I would have come here and stayed here. I'm so thankful for all that she's done for me."