Saturday, 6:45 p.m. - One win down, big game tomorrow. C'mon Monarch fans, make the drive
By Brendan O'Hallarn
I'm back at home after an electric afternoon of basketball at the Richmond Coliseum. ODU took care of business against Towson, winning 86-56 in the first game of quarter-final Saturday of the CAA Tournament. Then Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason staged a back-and-forth duel in Game 2, with the hated VCU Rams prevailing 75-60.
Here's what I wondered, however. As the VCU-GMU game went back and forth, the respective student sections behind the basket pulsated with each exciting play, I thought our half-full student section was a little disappointing in retrospect.
Our team played fantastically, one of its best games of the year. The band was lively, the cheer and dance teams went all out, Big Blue brought it as usual. But we didn't attract as many student rooters as I would have liked to see.
Do you think it's too far to drive the 100 miles from Norfolk to the Richmond Coliseum? Allow me to introduce you to Ilias and Athena Iliadis.
This was the itinerary of their trip to watch son Trian play basketball for the Monarchs: Fly from their hometown of Perth, Australia, to Sydney. Then fly to San Francisco. Then Chicago. Then Philadelphia. Then Norfolk. The couple got to their seats at the Constant Center three minutes before tipoff of last week's rivalry game with VCU.
"It was 24 hours, and that's just the flying time," Athena said with a smile. "You get a lot of time to think, ponder and consider just how far you're coming."
It's worth the trip though. Division 1 basketball "is amazing. There's just no comparison to what we have back in Australia," Ilias said. "To see Trian fulfilling his dream, we're really proud of him."
They're returning to Perth a week from Monday, the day after the field is chosen for the NCAA Tournament. But the couple has made fast friends at every ODU basketball game and practice since they've been here.
"People will come up and just start talking to us. We don't know them, but they make us feel so welcome," Ilias said.
In ODU's game, Towson was coming off a solid performance, beating UNC-Wilmington 91-74 on Friday. They played us close for the first 10 minutes, as we struggled to keep lightning-quick point guard Troy Franklin away from the basket, and Towson hit a few long three-pointers.
But the Monarchs shared the basketball better than I've seen them all year. Five pass sequences that culminated in dunks brought the blue-and-white-clad fans to their feet over and over. Everyone scored for ODU, and the Monarchs outrebounded Towson by an incredible 60-26 margin.
"This time of year, you expect everybody's best shot, because it could be their last game of the year," said ODU Coach Blaine Taylor after the game. "They're actually one of the harder teams in the league to defend, because they drive the ball well, and can shoot those long threes.
"But today we just had players coming from all angles getting rebounds. That's part of the strength of us is we can rebound all five positions effectively."
Towson coach Pat Kennedy complimented our guys during his press conference. "That's a good team, with depth, size and strength," he said. "I didn't think they could extend their man-to-man defense to guard us so well on the perimeter. It really disrupted our offense and caused a lot of tipped balls. And they're such a great offensive rebounding team. They just keep coming and coming."
So on Sunday, it's Round 3 with our archrivals - ODU versus VCU. It's a 100-mile drive, and this is one of the best Old Dominion teams we've had in years.
Are you sure you want to miss it? If so, there's a couple of crazy Australian parents you need to talk to.
Brendan O'Hallarn works in public relations for Old Dominion University
Brendan's Blog 46