Minium: ODU Plays a Huge Game Saturday Against WKU, and Jones Said Monarchs Need a Ton of Fan Support
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
I was there on Feb. 27, 2010, when an absolutely frenetic, sellout crowd, led by Old Dominion University’s student body, cheered every play of a 73-70 victory over VCU at the Ted Constant Center.
Your memory fades over the years and you forget details of certain games.
So when Eileen Graham, assistant to athletic director Wood Selig, fired up a YouTube video of that game on a big-screen TV Tuesday morning, I realized I’d forgotten just how charged up the crowd was.
The game was a “white-out” affair, with all fans wearing white. The noise was constant. Fans stood throughout the second half. Every ODU steal, rebound, basket, blocked shot or foul shot resulted in thunderous noise.
Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium had nothing on The Ted that night.
David Benson caught the last few minutes of the game and posted it online. You should click the link below to see what I mean. If you’re a fan of any college basketball team, even VCU, it will give you goosebumps.
Fast forward nine years to this Saturday, and that’s what ODU hopes will happen when the Monarchs host Western Kentucky.
ODU hasn’t won a regular-season title since 2010, when the win over VCU gave the Monarchs the Colonial Athletic Association title. And a victory over WKU would put ODU in the driver’s seat to win their first Conference USA regular-season title.
ODU is first in Conference USA, up by two games over WKU, Southern Miss and Texas-San Antonio, with four games to go. And Western Kentucky is the best team ODU has left to play.
“It’s a huge game,” ODU coach Jeff Jones said.
How huge? If ODU wins the regular-season title, the Monarchs are guaranteed a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, which in this day and age is a major accomplishment for any mid-major program.
ODU could still win the C-USA title in Frisco, Texas and thus claim a bid to the NCAA tournament. But if that doesn’t happen, the regular-season title means that ODU is still in a meaningful postseason tournament that usually includes a lot of Power 5 schools and games on ESPN.
Saturday’s game is the first round of Conference USA’s bonus play, a bold idea adopted by the league during the offseason that matches the top five teams in the league in a round-robin tournament of sorts over two weeks.
Call it March Madness in February.
Saturday's game matches No. 1 seed vs. No. 2 seed WKU.
The problem is, ODU, by necessity, didn’t know the date of the game until last weekend, so there have been very few single-game ticket sales. And it also takes time to get the word out to students, who haven’t turned out in great numbers to games this season (student attendance is down at most schools across the nation, but that's a subject for another day).
With just five business days to hawk tickets, it's probably unrealistic to think the game will sell out, even though the price of the ticket gets you a basketball doubleheader. ODU's much improved women's basketball team hosts Charlotte at 4 p.m.
Selig challenged his senior staff at a Tuesday morning meeting to fill as many seats as possible, and especially the student section. Jason Chandler, who heads marketing efforts for men’s basketball, and others on ODU’s staff responded quickly.
The game, and ODU's regular-season finale against Southern Miss on Sept. 6, have been declared "white-out" games. It was too late to acquire students T-shirts for Saturday, but ODU will distribute 750 white towels for students to wave. ODU will hand out 1,000 free t-shirts to students when the Golden Eagles come to town.
Season ticket holders can turn in unused tickets from previous games at The Ted box office for tickets to see Southern Miss.
ODU is reaching out to students through emails, phone calls and face to face conversations to encourage them to attend. Basketball players have gone to dining halls and residence halls and handed out several hundred tickets to students. ODU's staff has been burning up social media with messages to fans and students,
Group sales, to churches, youth league teams and businesses, usually comprise a goodly portion of home crowds, and with six days of lead time, there won't be many groups attending. Chandler has been working with the Greek life staff to get fraternities and sororities to the game. The Greek chapters who attend will get an opportunity at halftime to win a prize worth $500.
Tickets have been selling at a rate of about 400 to 500 per day and while that's far faster than usual, as of late Wednesday, more than 3,000 tickets remained unsold, or in the case of students, unclaimed.
Even if the game doesn't sell out, that doesn't mean ODU can't have a good home court advantage.
When I asked Jones about the home atmosphere, he said part of being earning the first seed in bonus play was having the home-court advantage against the No. 2 seed.
“We need our fans,” he said. “We’re going to be playing the most talented team in our league.
“We have what we think is the best home-court atmosphere in the league. And we really need it for this game.”
My boss Ted Alexander, the radio voice of ODU football and basketball, was a little more emphatic. Seeing Ted's antics on Twitter are worth 57 seconds of your time.
Jones wasn’t kidding when he said WKU is the league’s most talented team. Nine C-USA coaches picked the Hilltoppers to finish first in the preseason. They’re so talented that more than two dozen NBA scouts showed up when they had a Pro Day.
The Hilltoppers have beaten some very good teams, including No. 22 Wisconsin, Arkansas, Saint Mary’s and West Virginia. But at 16-11, they have suffered from poor chemistry from time to time and have been hamstrung by injuries and early suspensions of some of the team’s better players.
Then, head coach Rick Stansbury fell and injured a disc in his back and had surgery a few weeks ago. He’s missed the last four games and it’s uncertain whether he will coach Saturday against ODU.
Assistant coach Mark Hsu has ably filled in as the temporary head coach.
ODU men's basketball coach Jeff Jones said Monarchs need a huge turnout of fans for Saturday's game against Western Kentucky.
The Hilltoppers hit rock bottom early last month on a road swing that took them to Old Dominion and Marshall. ODU rallied from a 21-0 deficit to defeat WKU, 69-66, then the Hilltoppers dropped a one-point loss in Huntington, W.Va.
They’ve hit their stride since, winning eight of their last ten games.
"They're playing very well now," Jones said.
Adversity tends to bring a team together, and losing your head coach, even temporarily, can build camaraderie.
The key to this game is no secret – ODU must limit the damage done by center Charles Bassey, a true freshman and 6-foot-11, 245-pound McDonald’s All-American who has won C-USA freshman of the week honors more often than not.
He averages 14.9 points and 10 rebounds per game, and that's with everyone in the league doing their very best to shut him down.
He'll start one day in the NBA.
“He’s a walking double-double,” Jones said. “The most impressive thing about him is his motor. He goes full speed all the time. He never lets up. That’s so unusual for a freshman.”
Bassey had 19 points and 12 rebounds against ODU, but the Monarchs limited the damage by ganging up on him – big men Elbert Robinson (7-1), Dajour Dickens (7-0) and Kalu Ezikpe (who is 6-7 but looks taller) all spent time guarding him.
“We know he’s going to get his points and rebounds, but we want to make him work for everything he gets,” Jones said.
“No one person can guard him. We need help from all of those guys.”
As well as from ODU fans.
Contact Minium: email@example.com