Minium: Dave Twardzik says ODU Grew up a Lot During Rivalry Week
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
It was called Rivalry Week by Old Dominion officials. And although it actually encompassed eight days, it was a pretty pleasant stroll down memory lane for the Monarchs and their fans.
In the glory days of the Colonial Athletic Association, when the league at times sent multiple teams to the NCAA tournament and two teams went to the Final Four, the Monarchs carried on torrid rivalries with VCU, James Madison and William & Mary.
Since conference realignment began seven years ago, ODU has moved to Conference USA and VCU to the Atlantic 10, while the Tribe remains in the truncated CAA.
But in a scheduling coup of sorts, ODU managed to host all three over eight days. And ODU won each game.
In doing so, the Monarchs played their best basketball of this young season.
The Monarchs erased a 12-point halftime deficit to beat VCU 62-52 before a frenetic, near-capacity crowd at The Ted Constant Center on Nov. 23.
Three nights later, the Monarchs crushed James Madison 67-42, holding the Dukes to 11 points in the first half.
Then, again led by an outstanding defensive effort, ODU claimed a satisfying 71-53 win over William & Mary on Wednesday night before 6,501 at The Ted.
ODU had lost three in a row against the Rams and Tribe.
ODU basketball radio broadcasters Billy Mann, Dave Twardzik and Ted Alexander.
"The seniors let us know that it was very important to win these games,” said Marquis Godwin, a sophomore from Hampton who scored 14 points. “They’ve never beaten VCU and William and Mary, and JMU has always been tough to beat.”
The talented but inexperienced Monarchs got out of the gate slowly this season, losing three of their first five games.
But beginning with a 72-65 victory over Northern Iowa, the Monarchs (6-3), who host Fairfield at 1 p.m. Sunday, have won four in a row.
What’s different about ODU now than, say, a month ago, when the Monarchs blew a 14-point against Oregon State and got blown out at St. Joseph’s?
They’re playing much better defense, says Dave Twardzik, the former Division II All-American for ODU who had a stellar career in the NBA and teams with Ted Alexander on all Monarch radio broadcasts.
“I think now that they’ve played together a while, they’re beginning to jell defensively,” Twardzik said. “They were so young I don’t think the confidence was there that ‘if I get beat, I know someone’s going to come help me.’
“Now, when someone beats one of our guys off the dribble, their teammates are really coming and helping, taking away the penetration. I think they taken their defense to another level.”
Indeed they have. After the W&M game, ODU ranked second nationally in 2-point defense and 105th against three-pointers.
Xavier Green scores two of his eight points against William and Mary.
The offense, however, is still dependent on senior guards Ahmad Caver and B.J. Stith, who both scored 20 points against the Tribe.
When one or both are hot, ODU wins. If both aren’t shooting well, ODU struggles.
ODU is hoping that Xavier Green, the team’s third guard, will begin to step up offensively. He has at times; he had eight points against the Tribe.
“Ahmad is going to be Ahmad and get his points. B.J. will get his, too,” Twardzik said. “But Xavier has to be more consistent. And they need some guys to step up off the bench. You don’t need someone to score 15 or 20 off the bench, but they need some guys who will come in and give them eight or nine points.
“It’s going to happen. You can see this team getting better all the time.”
Coach Jeff Jones acknowledges his team has made progress, but says the young players still don’t understand that after a win, they still have to work hard in practice.
“If you play well, and then practice and do the things you need to do to learn and get better, that pays dividends,” he said. “This is a young team, an inexperienced team. Maybe they’re just too damn naïve to know. We’re trying to get that across to our young team. They’re great kids, but they don’t collectively get that.”
ODU is favored to beat Fairfield (2-7), which nearly upset Oakland, a strong mid-major program, losing by a point on Thursday.
A loss, Jones said, would negate a lot of the good feeling that came from sweeping three in-state rivals.
“I’m proud of how we played against William & Mary, but I was disappointed in our preparation,” he said. “Our inexperience showed after the win against James Madison.”
The rest of the schedule isn’t so forgiving.
ODU plays at Syracuse of the ACC on Dec. 15. The Orange are 6-2 heading into a game with former Big East archrival Georgetown on Saturday.
After a road game at Richmond on Dec. 19 and a home game with Morgan State on Dec. 22, the Monarchs host Marshall on Jan. 3 and Western Kentucky on Jan. 5. Both were picked to finish ahead of the Monarchs in Conference USA.
“Things only get tougher from now on, Jones said. “Our kids have to be more mature than they’ve been for us to become the basketball team I think we can be.”