NORFOLK — Five minutes before tipoff, Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor was told that his best player, all-conference wing Kent Bazemore, would not be available. Thus began a peculiar night in which the Monarchs did nearly everything but win.
Mercer ended ODU's season, erasing an 11-point second-half deficit in a 79-73 win Wednesday in front of a small, but engaged throng of 3,400 at the Constant Center in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com tournament.
"We handled pretty much everything that was thrown at us except finishing the game," Taylor said. "We got thrown a curveball right before the tip and nobody really … we didn't really talk about it. We just kind of moved on."
Though ODU's players adapted and soldiered on, Bazemore's absence hung over the proceedings like a shroud.
A WVEC-TV news report said that the 6-foot-5 senior was arrested at the arena before the game over a probation issue stemming from a charge of driving under the influence.
"I don't know what or why," Taylor told reporters approximately 20 minutes after the game. "About five minutes before the game, literally, I was told that he would not be available. I just was handed a statement from the university, which I'm sure you have, and that's all I know."
School officials distributed a brief statement during the game saying Bazemore was suspended pending a potential conduct issue. The statement said that information was still being gathered.
"I don't have any knowledge of anything," Taylor said. "I mean, five minutes before the game, he's suspended. He's not there. … I'll take a polygraph. I don't know anything. Five minutes before the game, he's not available, I moved on and coached the game."
The Monarchs (22-14) mixed and matched combinations and defenses effectively for 30 minutes, even without Bazemore. They finished with five players in double figures and made 11 3-pointers, two shy of their season high.
"We're a team that's bigger than one person," said sophomore Donte Hill, who finished with 14 points. "Whenever we get a blow or something like that, we usually come together. As we were playing, we didn't even think about it. Obviously, his production helps, but in the future we're not going to have him, so we have to move forward."
Justin Cecil (22 points) led four players in double figures for Mercer, the runner-up in the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Bears (25-11) made 11 3-pointers, as well, and totaled 50 points in the second half to continue the best season in the history of the program.
Travis Smith's 3-pointer at the 1:53 mark gave the Bears their first lead of the second half at 70-68, at the end of a chaotic sequence that included three shots.
Mercer scored on its final eight possessions, several with multiple shots that ended in either baskets or free throws, turning a 66-62 deficit into a 79-73 final margin.
"What I think made the difference in the game was," Taylor said, "when we had our lead when the game was close, there (were) a number of popcorn machine plays down there, where the ball was bouncing around, and they had three or four possessions that either turned into natural or unnatural three-point plays that gave them probably 10-12 points."
Not having their all-conference wing and leading scorer didn't help matters, either.
MERCER 79, OLD DOMINION 73
Cecil 7-18 3-3 22, Coursey 5-7 0-0 10, Gollon 3-5 5-5 11, Hall 4-11 1-2 13, Thomas 1-5 2-2 4, Brown 3-3 1-1 7, Canevari 0-0 0-0 0, Hallice 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 3-6 0-0 8, Smith 1-3 2-2 4. Totals 27-58 14-15 79.
OLD DOMINION (20-13):
Batten 4-9 2-2 13, De Lancey 4-6 5-8 14, Hill 5-13 1-2 14, Ross 0-1 0-0 0, Wright 4-9 3-4 12, Cooper 4-11 3-6 11, Key 3-4 0-0 9, Larsen 0-0 0-0 0, Pimentel 0-0 0-0 0, Rogers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-53 14-22 73.
Halftime—Old Dominion 34-29. 3-Point Goals—Mercer 11-27 (Cecil 5-13, Hall 4-9, Smith 2-2, Gollon 0-1, Thomas 0-2), Old Dominion 11-20 (Key 3-3, Batten 3-5, Hill 3-7, Wright 1-1, De Lancey 1-3, Ross 0-1). Fouled Out—Coursey, Cooper. Rebounds—Mercer 35 (Gollon 12), Old Dominion 32 (Cooper 9). Assists—Mercer 22 (Smith, Hall 6), Old Dominion 14 (De Lancey 6). Total Fouls—Mercer 19, Old Dominion 15. A—3,412 (9,520).