Shae Kelley was clearly Old Dominion's best player Thursday night, but had senior guard Michelle Brandao not played the game of her career, the Lady Monarchs would be done for the season.
Kelley scored 22 points, including 12 in a row during a crucial stretch in the second half, pulled down 13 rebounds and broke the 1,000-point career scoring mark to lead ODU past Navy 68-60 in the first round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
ODU (18-15) will play at Auburn at 7 p.m. Monday in the second round.
ODU was without point guard Galaisha Goodhope, sidelined with a sore knee. With Ashley Betz-White out for the season with a stress fracture, ODU was down to one point guard - Brandao.
Brandao started and ran ODU's offense to near perfection, scoring eight points and dishing out nine assists without a turnover in 37 minutes. She came in averaging 1.5 points and 1.7 assists per game.
A national team star in her native Portugal, Brandao's career at ODU has been pocked with misfortune. She was declared ineligible for a year and a half because the NCAA ruled that a club team she played for in Portugal had professional players.
After missing 44 games, she finally was eligible to play at midseason of last year, but in her eighth game, she blew out her knee. She returned to ODU's lineup in early December and has played sparingly.
Brandao played much of the game with a broad smile, clearly drinking in her moment in the limelight.
"I'm not going to lie, it feels good after all that has happened to me," she said.
"It's all about opportunity. I had my opportunity and I took it."
Navy (24-8), which had won three straight Patriot League titles prior to this season, rallied from a seven-point deficit early in the second half to take a 51-48 lead on a Jade Geif layup with 10:50 left.
However, Kelley then took over, scoring 12 consecutive points for ODU, including a layup and a free throw with 4:13 left that put the Lady Monarchs ahead 60-53.
The basketball gods did not smile upon Navy, which had half a dozen second-half shots rim out of the basket.
"It was a tough loss," Navy coach Stefanie Pemper said. "We just didn't get some bounces.
"I loved our effort, but I'm disappointed. I felt like we kind of let one get away."
Auburn is coached by Terri Williams-Flournoy, the sister of legendary Peninsula AAU coach Boo Williams, and a longtime friend of ODU coach Karen Barefoot. Williams-Flournoy and Barefoot are former high school basketball rivals.
"I was at Menchville and she was at Phoebus," Barefoot said. "I have a lot of respect for her and what she's done at Auburn.
"We know it's going to be a tough battle."
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