Ezikpe, Monarchs roll past Virginia Wesleyan on Opening Night

By Benjamin Draper, Sports Editor

Originally published November 12, 2021.


It was an eventful Wednesday night in Chartway Arena as the Old Dominion Men’s Basketball team opened up the 2021-2022 season in front of a packed house with over 6,000 fans in attendance. ODU Students made their presence heard as they rooted for their home team. The Monarchs welcomed the Marlins of Virginia Wesleyan for the opening matchup. This was the season-opener for Old Dominion while the Marlins were 1-1 coming into the game.


As everyone filed into their seats as the action was set to begin, the Monarchs won the opening tip-off. ODU went down the court and opened the scoring with a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Charles Smith IV. The Marlins would retaliate with a 3-pointer of their own on the next possession. Smith would come back down the court and drain his second 3-pointer of the evening and ODU regained the lead 6-3.


Junior Kalu Ezikpe made his presence felt early on in the paint as he would lead the Monarchs with offensive power inside the key. He would go on and dominate on the inside and tallied up 14 points. ODU would outscore the Marlins in the paint through the first half 22-12. The Marlins would stick around for a while until the Monarchs offense continued to terrorize in the paint and have the three-point range dropping as well. Sophomore Jaylin Hunter played a valuable role for the ODU offense with his 3-pointer and field goals late in the half. The effort on both ends of the court did not go unnoticed and the ODU lead would increase over time. The Monarchs had a better shooting percentage than the Marlins and went into the locker room with a comfortable 43-29 lead.

Coming out of the halftime break, Old Dominion would not let the foot off the pedal. Ezikpe would score the first six points to start the second half and would extend the Monarchs lead. Hunter would follow up with another 3-pointer of his own after the Marlins made a layup and the Monarch lead was 17. The Marlins came out with a few buckets themselves, but the turnovers would start to round up and lead to more points for the Monarch offense. ODU had 11 points off turnovers, where the Marlins didn’t have any. As the Monarchs held a steady 54-40 lead, Senior C.J. Keyser would hit a mid range shot and off of a Marlin turnover, he would come running back downcourt and drain a 3-pointer and extend the lead to 19 points. Virginia Wesleyan would retaliate with a three to cut into the deficit, but Keyser would be fouled going to the basket and would make both free throws to extend the lead to 61-43.


Both teams would go back and forth in the last ten minutes of the game subbing players in and out and the Monarchs would continue its power in the paint. As the time winded down, the fans rose to their feet and cheered on their team for an impressive home opening victory. Old Dominion would defeat Virginia Wesleyan 80-60 and move to 1-0 on the season.


In the offseason, Coach Jones made improvements to his offense by recruiting C.J. Keyser, an All-MEAC senior transfer from N.C. Central and Charles Smith IV, a sophomore who transferred from SMU. Both transfers came into the season opener and impressed in their debuts. Keyser had 16 points and four assists, and Smith totaled eight points and two assists. Hunter had 12 points and four assists, he would play a good game in the 31 minutes he was on the floor. The new additions helped pave the way to victory for ODU and hope to maintain that momentum throughout the season.


In the matchup, the ODU offense went 8-22 on three-point shots and had a better shooting percentage (52 percent) over the Marlins. The big men in the paint were crucial in the Monarchs victory, having outscored the Marlins 42-22. Ezikpe took over throughout the game and had a double-double having scored 21 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. He was a force of nature in the paint. Ezikpe made 10 of his 12 shots and added three steals and three blocked shots and most importantly of all, had no fouls. Ezikpe often got into foul trouble last season. After the game, Kalu shared his thoughts on the support the team received in the first home game with fans in the arena in over two years. “Last year, we heard echoes instead of the crowd. Tonight, it felt a little weird, it kind of felt different, but in a good way. The fans give us motivation.”


In the postgame press conference, head coach Jeff Jones expressed his thoughts on how his team has played in front of the home crowd so far and how the Marlins were a good test for his team early on. “Virginia Wesleyan is going to have a really good team. For a Division III team, they really made us work and we responded in a good way,” Jones stated. “I think it’s important in the two games that our fans have been able to see that our guys played really hard and played well and played an exciting brand of basketball.”


ODU returns to action on Saturday night when they travel to Northern Virginia to face off with in-state rival James Madison. The Dukes will be joining the Monarchs in the Sun Belt Conference in 2022-23 or 2023-24. The Monarchs will return home Monday, Nov. 15, to host Manhattan at 7 p.m. in Chartway Arena.