For the second day in a row, Old Dominion needed a huge comeback, and a miraculous shot in the final seconds, to advance in the Conference USA tournament. And once again, the Monarchs delivered.
Xavier Green made the game-winner with a driving one-handed shot as he was being fouled with 4 seconds left and the Monarchs eked past UAB, 61-59, at the Ford Center at The Star.
ODU (25-8) advances to Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. championship game, where the Monarchs will meet Western Kentucky for the C-USA championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
ODU hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2011.
Western Kentucky defeated Southern Mississippi, 70-59, in Saturday's other semifinal. ODU has beaten the Hilltoppers twice this season, with both in Norfolk, and both were close games that went down to the wire.
Even after Green’s shot, ODU very nearly allowed the game to go into overtime. Green made his foul shot, giving ODU a two-point lead. ODU then went into a basketball version of a prevent defense to prevent the Blazers from getting a good shot.
But UAB’s Makhtar Gueye streaked toward the basket and was open for a layup. Fortunately for ODU, the ball was thrown beyond him and out of bounds.
The game followed a frenetic ODU comeback victory over Louisiana Tech in Thursday’s semifinals, which the Monarchs won by a point on a fallaway 3-point jump shot from senior guard Ahmad Caver.
March Madness, indeed.
“Once again, we were very fortunate to win,” coach Jeff Jones said.
Playing just 16 hours after winning in Thursday’s semifinals – men’s and women’s brackets were switched on Friday at the request of the CBS Sports Network – both teams looked worn out.
That appeared especially so for ODU’s offense, which struggled to score.
ODU’s two best players, Caver and B.J. Stith, made a combined eight of 28 shots. But Green made up the difference, making 8 of 12 shots for 21 points.
ODU appeared to be in huge trouble with 4:46 left when UAB center Lewis Sullivan made a short jumper to give the Blazers a 53-44 lead.
But the Monarchs seemed unfazed on the court, even as a small but vocal UAB contingent celebrated loudly.
“We’ve been here before,” Caver said. “We knew we just had to stay together and have faith.”
Following an ODU timeout, Stith and Caver made back-to-back 3-point shots and with 3:44 left the Monarchs trailed by 3.
UAB still led by three with 15 seconds when Caver was fouled while shooting. He made both, and the Monarchs quickly fouled Zach Bryant, who led UAB with 23 points.
Bryant missed the foul shot and Stith rebounded. Jones then called a timeout, and set up a play for Caver to pass the ball to Stith for the final shot.
However, Stith was covered, so Caver fired a slick pass to Green, who made the shot that moved ODU to within one game of its first Conference USA championship.
ODU has participated in five previous C-USA tournaments and lost in its only previous appearance in the championship game.
“The bottom line is we’ve been here before in terms of being behind in close games,” Jones said. “That experience helps our guys not to panic when things don’t look good for us.
“We keep hanging in there. And when you’ve got good players, they make big plays.
“After Ahmad made such a huge play yesterday. Xavier stepped up in a big way today.”