NORFOLK, VA (WTKR)- UAB entered Sunday afternoon with a NET ranking of No. 41, the best in Conference USA. The Blazers are also the preseason league favorites and competing for the top spot in a very competitive Western Division. None of that mattered when they tipped off with Old Dominion.
The Monarchs took control in the second half, led by as many as 16 points in the frame and stunned UAB, 81-72, at Chartway Arena. The win snaps a three-game losing streak for ODU and gives them a much-needed confidence-boosting victory.
"We were just able to I think hang in there and keep fighting, not lose our composure for part of the game," ODU head coach Jeff Jones said. "It wasn't always pretty, but we were always focused, we were always playing hard and competing."
"I feel like the last two games, we were the ones getting pushed around," added guard Mekhi Long. "Us pushing someone else around, that makes us feel good. I feel like when we push people around and rough people up, that's when we're a better team."
The Blazers led 37-30 with 2:27 remaining in the opening frame, but the Monarchs responded, closing the half on a 7-0 run to tie the game heading into halftime. They continued the run coming out of the break, scoring the first four points of the second half and had opened up a 50-43 lead with 15:25 left in the contest.
Old Dominion would never trail during the second half, answering every UAB threat. The Blazers would pull to within two points on two separate occasions following ODU's initial seven point advantage, but could never tie the game or push in front. The silver and blue's largest lead of 16 occurred with 3:05 remaining and the Monarchs cruised from there.
It has not been a pleasant week for Old Dominion. After a 77-60 loss at home to Western Kentucky last Saturday, two lopsided defeats on the road made up the weekday contests. Florida Atlantic handed the Monarchs an 81-62 loss on Tuesday and the team found itself on the short end of a 63-48 score at Middle Tennessee on Thursday.
"The last two games, I told them in the locker room we've just got to play harder," Long said. "It's not the basketball. It's more the pride stuff, so I just feel like we had great pride out there today. That's what made me happy."
Austin Trice paced Old Dominion with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Long added 17 points, seven boards and a career-high five steals. Jaylin Hunter contributed 13 points and seven assists, while Kalu Ezikpe chipped in 11 points. Jordan Walker led four Blazers in double figures with 20 points.
Old Dominion improves to 10-15, 5-7 in Conference USA. The Monarchs hit the road and play at Marshall on Thursday, followed by a trip to Western Kentucky on Saturday. They'll hope to carry momentum and confidence with them from Sunday afternoon's upset win.
"Now we've got to stay consistent with this play," Long noted. "We've been going up, dropping off and now we've just got to keep it for this last home stretch going into the tournament."
"People could have predicted that, after this three-game losing streak that we've been through, that we were done and we aren't," Jones said. "The only thing that matters is what we do."