RICHMOND – When Old Dominion took the floor at Virginia Union for practice Friday, the day before its CAA tournament opener, Blaine Taylor decided that it would be a lengthy, full-go, scrap and hustle and scrimmage session. No easy walk-through or meandering shootaround to save legs or wind.
Twenty-four hours later, the result was the Monarchs' best offensive game of the season, a revelation of pace and shot-making and aggressiveness that offset foul trouble to their big men and ultimately wore down one of the conference's hottest and most gifted teams.
ODU ran past fifth-seeded Delaware 88-74 Saturday at the Richmond Coliseum and into the tournament semifinals, where No. 1 seed and regular season champ Drexel awaits.
"Anybody who knows me knows there's no conventional wisdom," Taylor said, responding to a question about the decision to practice hard in postseason. "I felt like we needed a little more edge going into the day, given the fact that (Delaware was) going to play the day before and have a little bit of mojo coming in. I felt like we needed a little more edge.
"I felt like the kids were really game customers (Friday) that we were doing something for a reason. I wasn't just some whacked-out coach. We really worked at it together and worked through some stuff, almost as if when we came into this game, we had played a game. We weren't starting from scratch. That's the way we approached it."
Alpha dog Kent Bazemore (24 points, nine rebounds) led five players in double figures as ODU logged a season-high in points, despite the absence of senior Trian Iliadis, who suffered a knee injury the last week of the regular season. The previous high was 82 points, in an overtime loss to Richmond in December, and 81 points in wins over VMI and UNC Wilmington.
The Monarchs (20-12) scored 47 points in the first half – recall that they totaled 46 in a loss to Northern Iowa in the season opener. They had 80 points with six minutes remaining before they began to milk the clock, carrying a double-digit lead, as Delaware scrambled unsuccessfully to catch up.
"Most of the time, what I tell guys in the huddle eventually comes true," Delaware coach Monte' Ross said. "I kept telling these guys in the huddle: 'Look guys, trust me, they're going to start missing; the key is when they start missing, we have to rebound the basketball.' Doggone it, they never started missing. That was the problem."
Bazemore, Donte Hill and Nick Wright jump-started the Monarchs, combining for 36 points in a first half that at times felt a little like a runaway stage coach, especially given ODU's offensive inconsistency much of the season.
ODU pushed the lead to double figures by scoring on its first five possessions of the second half and never let Delaware (18-13) back into the game. The Monarchs' offensive aggressiveness and efficiency compensated for foul trouble to frontcourt players Chris Cooper, Wright and Richard Ross.
Cooper picked up two fouls in the first two minutes. Wright and Ross eventually fouled out. But Taylor mixed and matched lineups and combinations, and all contributed. Cooper had 12 of his 13 points in the second half and keyed a 44-32 rebound edge.
"I wanted to play faster than that," Taylor said. "We kept trying to run fresh bodies, trying to press the issue. We thought that would be to our advantage in this particular contest."
Said Hill, "The funny thing is, Coach Taylor, the whole season, he wanted us to play that pace. He's been harping to us and gets on us every day at practice for not playing at that pace. Point guards and guards not pushing the ball up the floor and trying to find opportunities. As the season goes on, we're getting more accustomed to really buying into the goals and what we're trying to do, and we did that today."
Devon Saddler led the Blue Hens with 24 points, but as they fell behind, their offense often devolved into guards going one-on-one and creating for themselves. All-conference forward Jamelle Hagins (12 points, 15 rebounds) and burly running mate Josh Brinkley combined to take just six shots in the second half.
ODU's guards also did a nice job of double-teaming and crowding Delaware's post players when they did get the ball.
"I would have thought they would have gone inside a little more," Hill said. "Give credit to our 'bigs' coming off the bench. I thought they did a really good job of playing straight-up. I thought Nick was straight up on a lot of them, but that's the way it goes sometimes. But I think the guys that came in off the bench gave us a big lift."
It all resulted from the preparation leading into the tournament and Friday's practice in particular, which Taylor said was the toughest day-before session he's held in years.
"Going in, you never really know what to expect from Coach Taylor," Hill said. "He'll come in and just say something that'll spark something with you. We trust him. We all trust him and we bought into what he wanted to do. We all were looking to go hard. It was a good, effective practice and we got a lot done."