Form holds for Old Dominion. When the Monarchs play hard and smart, they give themselves a chance to win, despite their limitations. Lapses are costly, particularly against quality opponents.
Effort and efficiency gave ODU a chance to steal a game against Conference USA title contender Louisiana Tech. But the Bulldogs took advantage of untimely mistakes to slip past the Monarchs 71-66 Saturday at the Constant Center.
“We’ve still got a ways to go before we’re ready to win that kind of game,” ODU coach Jeff Jones said. “At times, I thought we played some realy good basketball, but Louisiana Tech keeps the pressure on. They do it offensively, they do it defensively. That’s why they’re a very good team.”
The Monarchs (13-15, 7-6 Conference USA) erased a nine-point second-half deficit, thanks to the work of Aaron Bacote, Dimitri Batten and Ambrose Mosley, and led 51-49 with 7:26 remaining.
From there, Louisiana Tech (22-6, 10-3 C-USA) scored 10 consecutive points for a 59-51 lead with 3 1/2 minutes to play. ODU gamely fought back, three times pulling within three points in the final minute.
But each time, the Bulldogs were golden from the foul line. They made their last 11 free throws and hit 28 of 34 for the game.
Louisiana Tech’s Alex Hamilton scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half. Senior wing Chris Anderson (19 points) routinely drove for baskets or free throws. Wing Jaron Johnson scored six consecutive points during a critical two-minute stretch late, including a stickback. Kenyon McNeail, the Bulldogs’ best perimeter shooter, got loose for a wide-open 3-pointer.
“There were some times where defensively, we just gave them points by not moving our feet,” Jones said. “We were guarding their stuff. We knew or should have known that they were going to drive the basketball, and when they drive, you can’t make contact. You’ve got to move your feet, you’ve got to move laterally. It seemed like time after time we were just a little bit late and we ended up putting either Hamilton or Anderson on the free throw line.”
ODU committed only 14 turnovers against the league leader in steals and forcing turnovers, but several came at inopportune times, and the Bulldogs turned them into 17 points.
“Those are concentration things,” Jones said. “The effort part is there, but those are concentration things that we as a young basketball team need to learn and need to get better. They don’t jump out at you, they’re not going to be in any highlight film, but they can be the difference in winning and losing a game.”
The Monarchs are in sixth place in the conference, 0-5 against the teams above them, 7-1 versus the teams below them. Saturday’s performance was the closest ODU has been to an upper-tier opponent, one that’s lost just three games since mid-December.
ODU shot 46 percent and made 8 of 14 from 3-point range, which helped keep the game close. But the players know that they must be sharper.
“Just the basics,” said Bacote, who led all scorers with 25 points. “Passing and catching, making the right play. It’s being mentally tough when you’re tired. Because you’re going to get tired playing against a team that’s trying to get out in transition, attacking every chance they get, every possession on offense and defense. You’ve just got to stay focused. Coach preaches that: staying focused, and just giving effort and playing hard and good things will happen. … The hard work is going to take over eventually.”
The Monarchs have three more regular season games, all against lower-tier opponents: Marshall, Charlotte and East Carolina. None of the three are a given for a team with ODU’s margin for error.
“Sometimes you’re going to go through those stretches,” Jones said, “but you don’t want to make things easy for the opponent. I can’t ask these guys to play any harder. I think our guys are laying it on the line. But there’s more than that in games like this, particularly against opponents like Louisiana Tech.
“We’re playing hard, but we’ve got to be a little bit smarter. Hopefully, if we learn those lessons, that can get us over the hump. That’s what I’m referring to about not being ready yet. We’re getting there, but it would be nice to get there a little quicker.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun