ODU Athletics

Minium: Upset Win over Syracuse an Indication This Could be a Special Season for ODU

December 15, 2018
By ODU Athletics

By Harry Minium

For years, Wood Selig held out. The Old Dominion athletic director refused to allow his men's basketball team to go on the road for "guarantee games."

After all, the Ted Constant Center is a splendid place to play basketball, ODU has a devoted fan following and the Monarchs have a history that warrants ACC or SEC teams coming to Norfolk.

But none has agreed to in recent years and the lack of Power 5 teams on ODU's schedule may have hurt the Monarchs' postseason aspirations.

So Selig reluctantly agreed to allow coach Jeff Jones to schedule a guarantee game at Syracuse this season. The ACC school paid ODU $85,000, and in return, the Orange got a home game with ODU and won't have to come to Norfolk.

That's life in college basketball these days. Power 5 schools refuse to go on the road to play mid-majors like ODU. And that stacks the deck in their favor when it comes to postseason play because Power 5 schools almost always win at home.

Almost always, but not this time. The Monarchs erased an 11-point second half deficit Saturday and shocked the No 25 Orange, 68-62. Because the game was widely viewed on television, and because the upset occurred at 2 p.m., the victory generated a lot of media buzz for ODU. 

The Monarchs showed the kind of poise and grit and determination at Syracuse, and against VCU and Northern Iowa a few weeks ago, that indicates this could be a very special season for ODU. The Monarchs have won six in a row and are 8-3.

Yes, it's very early in the season. ODU doesn't begin Conference USA play until the first week in January. The Conference USA tournament is almost three months away.

But this indeed seems like it could be a very special team.

Ahmad Caver breaks the Syracuse press Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome. 

I was especially impressed with the defense ODU played. The man-for-man was so aggressive that Syracuse got frustrated. That's the kind of defense that can win postseason tournament games.

Perhaps more importantly, there's no quit in these Monarchs. They trailed VCU by 17 late in the first half and rallied to win. They grabbed a nice lead against Northern Iowa and weathered a comeback.

At Syracuse, ODU trailed by 10 at the half, and after narrowing the margin to five suddenly found themselves down by 11 five minutes into the second half.

“I don’t want to use the word afraid. But in that first half, we were hesitant. In their zone, they were attacking us and we were kind of back on our heels. In the second half, I thought we were more aggressive,’’ Jones told The Virginian-Pilot.

B.J. Stith, ODU's leading scorer, was shut out in the first half. And when the Orange went up by 11, the Carrier Dome crowd of 17,523, though smaller than usual because students are on Christmas break, was nonetheless jumping. This is the time when a lot of teams cave.

Yet as ODU did against VCU, the Monarchs played with maturity that you often don't see in such a young team. They outscored the Orange, 13-2, with Marquis Godwin tying the scored at 41-41 with 10:42 left when he swished a three-pointer.

Coach Jim Boihem's Orange play a zone defense that takes advantage of the athleticism of his players by stretching the D out to the three-point line. And in the first half, most of ODU's three pointers were contested shots.

In the second half, ODU was finally able to get the ball inside, where Cuse players collapsed, allowing the Monarchs toss the ball back outside for some relatively uncontested jumpers. Stith and others also began to penetrate the zone for open shots.

Stith led the second-half comeback with 18 points, but this was no one-man show. Xavier Green, who is becoming the find of offensive threat Jones has wanted him to be, knocked in 15 points, including a 3-of-4 shooting performance on 3-pointers.

B.J. Stith had 18 points in the second half after being held scoreless in the first half against Syracuse. 

Amhad Caver had nine points, 4 assists and 3 steals and made a 3 pointer that would have been good in the NBA with 5:27 left that gave ODU the lead for good, 51-50 .

Aaron Carver, who hadn't scored a point in December, came off the bench to score six. Godwin, the sophomore from Hampton, added 11.

This is the kind of balanced offensive production ODU had been missing. 

ODU won't be ranked in the Top 25, but deserves some votes from coaches and the media after extending its winning streak to six by beating a ranked ACC team on the road.

This was an especially sweet win for long-time alumni who remember the time when Syracuse played home-and-home with the Monarchs. I was there in 1977 when Syracuse rallied to edge ODU, 67-64, before a sellout crowd at Scope in the ECAC championship. At the time, before the Big East formed, ODU played in the same league with Georgetown and Syracuse.

Three years later, Jim Boeheim and the Orange returned to Scope, ranked third in the country, and a raucous crowd at Scope celebrated a 68-67 ODU victory that was televised nationally.

ODU evened the series with Syracuse, 2-2, and is 1-0 against the Orange since they joined the ACC.

I wonder if Jim Boeheim will invite the Monarchs back next season?

An interesting aside here. Remember the 24 hours that ODU spent stuck in an airport in the Virgin Islands with the Penn basketball team because an American Airlines flight had mechanical problems? Although players slept on chairs with no blankets and the lights on, and had little food, coaches of both teams described it as a bonding experience for their teams.

Indeed it was. ODU has won six in a row and Penn five in a row since, including an upset of then No. 17 Villanova. They are a combined 11-0. 

Saturday's win likely will provide a boost to ODU's fundraising efforts. Selig used some of that $85,000 paid to Syracuse to charter a plane and fly directly from Norfolk to Syracuse. On board were about 35 or so alumni and local business people who have given generously to ODU's program, and some who the Monarchs hope will open their wallets.

It was a smart move by Selig and the people at the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation. ODAF can no longer give donors choice seats because they sign big checks. That changed with the new tax law that went into effect this year.

But they can give donors access to practices, special events and special games in return for contributions. You can expect to see these kinds of event more frequently.

The donors had the opportunity to watch the Monarchs do a shoot-around practice Friday evening at the Dome, had dinner with the team, and then were up close and personal as ODU upset a Top 25 team. Can you imagine how festive the plane ride was back to Norfolk?

Saturday's 68-62 upset victory over Syracuse was arguably the biggest win for coach Jeff Jones at ODU.

Alas, I missed the game live and had to watch a replay Saturday night. Selig offered me a seat on the plane, and a chance to mingle with alumni and players and then cover the game.

But half my job is to cover academics, and I declined in part to take part in ODU's graduation Saturday. And truth be told, it was an inspiring event to watch thousands of ODU students receive their degrees and listen to a short but heartfelt speech from Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who said his brother was a Syracuse alum, and who he planned to give a hard time.

I was following the game on my cell phone but turned it off with four minutes left as I walked into the Ted with faculty members. There's nothing more impolite than being on your phone as kids are receiving their diplomas, right?

ODU President John R. Broderick announced the upset victory over Syracuse at the start of Saturday's graduation. 

But ten minutes or so later, Caitlin Chandler, one of my bosses in strategic communications, saw me, raised her fist and said, "Go Monarchs." Her smile told me that ODU had won.

When President John R. Broderick opened graduation a few minutes later by announcing the score, the place exploded into cheers.

Video of President Broderick announcing victory over Syracuse at graduation.

ODU's football team had an even bigger victory this season, a 49-35, upset of No. 13 Virginia Tech. And although that generated a ton of publicity for ODU, for whatever reason, and there were some extenuating circumstances, the Monarchs didn't capitalize on that victory and go to a bowl.

The question for ODU basketball is, will the Monarchs take advantage of this upset? The basketball Monarchs scheduled Syracuse to burnish their NCAA tournament resume, and this clearly has done that. ODU has improved markedly over the young team that blew a 9-point lead to Oregon State and got blown out at St. Joseph's.

Yet there is still much work to do before this team is team is good enough to claim an NCAA or NIT bid.

Wednesday night ODU plays Richmond at the Robins Center, where the Spiders upset Wake Forest earlier this year. Then after a 2 p.m. Saturday game at home against Morgan State, the Monarchs hit the meat of their Conference USA schedule the first week in January when they host Marshall and Western Kentucky, the two schools picked ahead of them.

As I said, it's been an encouraging season so far. It will be interesting, and I think entertaining, to see how the next three months play out. 

Contact Minium: hminium@odu.edu

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