Never mind the various tie-breaking scenarios. Forget scoreboard-watching.
The cleanest, clearest, quickest way for Old Dominion to lock up the No. 6 seed in next week’s Conference USA tournament was to beat East Carolina on Thursday night.
The Monarchs did so in rousing fashion, shooting 71 percent in the second half to drop the Pirates 68-47 in front of 7,029 at the Constant Center.
The margin of victory was ODU’s largest of the season, and sends the Monarchs to El Paso, Texas, next week on a wave of good vibes. They’ll face the winner of a first-round game between No. 11 Florida Atlantic and No. 14 Marshall in Wednesday’s second round.
“To have this kind of performance, at home, to wrap up the regular season was a real nice way to be going into the tournament,” coach Jeff Jones said.
The Monarchs (15-16, 9-7) made a 91⁄2 -game improvement over last season, when they went 5-25.
“I think we’ve improved, and it’s because these guys have worked hard, they’ve been hungry, they’ve listened,” Jones said.
The Monarchs did all of the above Thursday. Up 28-21 at the half, they carved up ECU’s 2-3 zone in the second half, hitting 8 of their first 11 shots.
ODU hit 6 of 10 3-pointers in the half, and 10 of 24 on the night.
“That’s not probably their strength, but they made them tonight. Congratulations to them,” ECU coach Jeff Lebo said.
No, 3-point sniping actually is the Pirates’ strength. They hit a league-best 8.5 per game – 18th in the nation.
They hit just 5 of 19 against ODU. Akeem Richmond, the nation’s most prolific 3-point shooter at an average of 4.59 per game, got hounded into a 1-for-7 night, mostly by Keenan Palmore.
As he did in an 81-70 win in Greenville, N.C., on Jan. 11, Palmore chased Richmond off countless screens, rarely allowing him a decent look at the rim.
Unable to score, the Pirates began breaking down on defense. ODU’s patience and ball movement forced them to guard deep into the shot clock.
“We didn’t take the first shot, and sometimes not even the first good shot,” Jones said. “We had some guys turning down, waiting for a better shot. We obviously were very effective in the zone.”
No one more than redshirt freshman Ambrose Mosley, who provided a shot of energy off the bench. Mosley stole a pass and scored on a layup shortly after entering the game in the first half. Then he made a 3-pointer.
It was the first of five he made on 10 attempts. Mosley scored 17 points, one of four Monarchs in double figures.
“You don’t know unless you try,” Mosley said when asked at what point he knew he was headed for a hot shooting night. “You’ve got to have confidence, right?”
ODU appears to have it, after finishing much further north in the conference than projected at the start of the season. In a league in which there is clear separation between the top five and everyone else, ODU earned the distinction of being the best of the rest of the pack.
The Monarchs will enjoy it for a couple of days before returning to practice Sunday. They leave Monday afternoon for El Paso.
“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel, we’re not going to be trying to add a whole lot of things,” Jones said. “Fresh minds and fresh legs. That’s the biggest thing going into any tournament.”
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