NORFOLK — As Old Dominion and Drexel wind down disappointing seasons, they played the same kind of games they have all season: close, competitive, flawed.
The difference was that the Dragons made enough plays to finally win a tight game, while again ODU’s execution didn’t match its effort.
Drexel rode Damion Lee and its guard play to an 81-77 win Thursday at the Constant Center in the Monarchs’ final home game.
“I’m extremely proud of the way the kids played tonight,” Monarchs’ interim head coach Jim Corrigan said. “To fall behind like they did early, it would have been real easy to quit. They did a great job coming back.
“They played with a lot of heart, a lot of toughness. You can’t ask for more out of a team than to play their hearts out, and those guys played their hearts out and left it all on the floor.”
Lee scored 24 of his career-high 34 points in the first half, after being shut out in the first meeting between the two teams – a 78-66 home loss in ODU’s first game after head coach Blaine Taylor was fired.
“The main thing today was just to come out and play hard,” Lee said. “We had been playing hard, but we just haven’t been making shots. We haven’t been closing games. My main thing today was to get everyone else involved so that our whole team was confident.”
Drexel point guard Frantz Massenat scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half, as the Dragons’ guards combined for 76 of their 81 points. The Dragons made a season-high 14 3-pointers and shot 61 percent (14-for-23) from behind the arc.
Aaron Bacote and DeShawn Painter led ODU (4-25, 2-15 CAA) with 15 points apiece. Donte Hill (14 points) and Dimitri Batten (12 points) contributed to a balanced effort, and Hill played solid defense against Lee, particularly in the second half.
ODU trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half and 41-29 at halftime before climbing back and tying the game at 53.
Drexel again gained separation and led by nine with less than six minutes remaining, and 79-72 with 58 seconds left. But the Dragons got sloppy and ODU made one final push.
Painter’s follow of a Batten miss made it 79-74. The Dragons then were whistled for a five-second call on the inbounds play and turned it over. ODU capitalized with Hill’s three-point play with 44.2 seconds left, after a Drexel goaltend and lane violation on the free throw, pulled the Monarchs within 79-77.
The Monarchs then got a defensive stop as Richard Ross blocked Massenat’s driving shot, and Lee’s desperation heave didn’t hit the rim before the shot clock went off.
But ODU botched its last opportunity to tie, when Hill misread Drexel’s defensive alignment on the inbounds play, and Dartaye Ruffin intercepted his pass with six seconds left. Ruffin flipped the ball to Massenat, who was fouled and hit the final two free throws to clinch the win.
Drexel guard Derrick Thomas (13 points) scored in double figures for the ninth consecutive game after doing so only four times in the first 20 games. He and Lee hit back-to-back 3-pointers after ODU had pulled within 61-59.
“That gave us enough cushion that we couldn’t absolutely just throw it to ‘em,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint half-joked. “And then we came up with a couple stops and got some rebounds, and they fouled us and we made some foul shots, so that gave us enough cushion that we couldn’t give it away.”
Drexel (12-17, 8-9 CAA) was an overwhelming pick to win the conference, but slogged through a season beset by injuries, illness and inconsistency. Nine of the Dragons' losses were by five points or fewer, or went to overtime.
ODU was picked to finish fourth, but has suffered through a historically dismal season with a young and inexperienced group that faced a ton of adversity. Ten of the Monarchs' losses were by five points or less.
Corrigan hadn’t given a moment’s thought to the fact that it was ODU’s final CAA game at the Constant Center.
“Just another hard-fought game with Drexel,” he said.
Flint, the dean of CAA coaches, was a bit more wistful after winning his last two trips to the Ted on the Monarchs’ way out the door to Conference USA.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Flint said. “When they played us in Philly, I said Old Dominion is one of the schools that made the CAA what it is. Blaine did an unbelievable job here, great coach. They won games, they got to the (NCAA) tournament. They helped build the reputation of being one of the top mid-major leagues in the country.
“When you talked about the CAA, you talked about VCU, Old Dominion and George Mason. ODU and VCU were probably the two top teams at that point in time. The only thing they didn’t do that VCU and Mason did was go to the Final Four, but in terms of success, they beat teams outside the conference. They were a benchmark program in the CAA. They were ones who helped build the reputation.”