ODU Cannot Keep Pace With WKU and Fell 77-60

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Elena Harris

Mekhi Long #0 goes up for the layup as a WKU defender guards him.

Benjamin Draper, Sports Editor

The Old Dominion men’s basketball team took the court Saturday night against Western Kentucky University. The Monarch came into the game on back-to-back victories over Charlotte and Marshall and were tied for third place in the east division of C-USA with a 9-12(4-4) record. They were looking for that third straight victory, but the Hilltoppers were a tough conference opponent that had victories over Ole Miss and Louisville earlier this season. Almost 6000 were in attendance for the conference matchup and many sported their white shirts because the theme for the game was a ‘whiteout’.

The game started off in favor of the Monarchs as they made good passes coming down the floor and found sophomore Mekhi Long in the paint for the early bucket. The Hilltoppers did not hesitate to find their big man, junior Jamarion Sharp in the paint for the alley-oop basket. Sharp is 7-foot-5 and the tallest man in the NCAA. ODU would come back down the court and off the assists of junior Kalu Ezikpe, senior C.J. Keyser was open in the corner for a 3-pointer that gave the Monarchs the 5-2 advantage. WKU would get a layup on their next possession to cut the lead to one. Ezikpe converted a mid-range jumper from the top of the key to put the ODU lead back to three. In the next few minutes of the game, both teams kept scoring on each end of the floor. The game was 13-11 in ODU’s favor. On the ensuing Monarch possession, sophomore Jaylin Hunter was open at the top of the 3-point line and drained his shot that gave ODU the five point lead. WKU answered the 3-pointer with a bucket of their own that made it 16-13. 

Austin Trice #23 throws up the basketball over his defender, towards the basket. (Elena Harris)

Ezikpe would continue to dominate the paint and get past his defender and up for another layup to make it 18-13. After a Hilltopper miss, Hunter would find a lane and drive to the basket for another two points. WKU would begin to chip away at the lead with baskets made and the game was 22-21. On the ensuing Hilltopper possession, they drained a 3-pointer and took their first lead of the evening 24-22. After a Monarchs miss, the WKU offense found more rhythm when they got down the floor and sank another 3-pointer to extend their lead to five. ODU would have to call a timeout to break the sudden momentum for WKU. The timeout didn’t seem to rattle the momentum though as the Hilltoppers got back down the court and made another 3-pointer that opened the game up a bit at 30-22. Keyser would end the 9-0 scoring run for WKU with a mid-range shot. WKU would drain their fourth straight 3-pointer and the lead was nine. Before the final buzzer in the half, Ezikpe would find a way in the paint and up for another bucket. Old Dominion went into the break down 33-26. 

Coming out of halftime, ODU started with possession and Ezikpe would continue to shine in the paint with the early bucket. WKU would come back down the court and sink a jump shot to keep the lead at seven. After a Monarchs missed shot, the Hilltoppers attacked from beyond the arc again and brought the lead to double digits, Keyser would give the ODU offense a boost when he sank a 3-pointer in the corner that put the game 38-31. On the ensuing Monarch possession, Long would get fouled going up for the bucket and would make one of the two free throws to cut the lead to six. The Hilltoppers continued to work their magic from beyond the arc as they hit another 3-pointer to make it 41-32. Old Dominion had no answers on the defensive side of the ball as the WKU offense continued to make shots. Even when the Monarchs began to chip away at the lead and try to come back, the Hilltoppers would hit those big shots that kept the advantage at bay. 

On the next Monarch possession, Keyser would find some space and nail another 3-pointer to cut the lead to 12. WKU would miss on their next possession and Trice took matters into his own hands and got up for the tough bucket to put the game at 60-50 with just under five minutes in the matchup. WKU would continue to nail their shots going down the stretch and would go onto winning the game 77-60 over Old Dominion. WKU finished the evening shooting 28-55 (50.9 percent) and went 12 for 28 (42.9 percent) beyond the arc. Old Dominion finished shooting 26-62 (41.9 percent) and 6 for 21(28.6 percent) from the 3-point line.

C.J. Keyser finds some space in the corner and shoots a 3-pointer. (Elena Harris )

Keyser led the way for the Monarchs tallying 19 points and three rebounds. Trice finished the game with a game-high 13 rebounds, two assists and eight points. Ezikpe scored 16 points and had four assists and six rebounds in the defeat. Long and Hunter both combined for 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in the matchup. 

In the post-game presser, head coach Jeff Jones talked about how they couldn’t keep up with WKU offensively and got beat by the better team. He also mentioned that the focus is now set on a tough week ahead with FAU as the next opponent on the calendar. “This is the kind of day that you’ve got to tip your hat to the opponent. Offensively, they hit big shots. And defensively their zone kept us off balance the entire evening. We didn’t have any answers,” Jones said. “We’ve got a big week in front of us. We’ve got to turn our focus to FAU. We’ve got to be ready to play the best possible game we can.” 

Next up for Old Dominion is not going to be easy with a challenging week ahead. The Monarchs start off on the road at the top-seeded Florida Atlantic Owls 14-9(7-3) on Tuesday, Feb 8. They then travel to second-place Middle Tennessee State 14-7(5-3) on Thursday Feb. 10. ODU returns to Norfolk to host the University of Alabama Birmingham 18–5(8-2) on Super Bowl Sunday with tip-off set for 2 p.m.