The question-and-response segment went as smoothly as a well-rehearsed play.
After Old Dominion's 77-69 victory against Hofstra in Sunday's Colonial Athletic Association semifinal, Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor fielded the inevitable inquiry: What about your team's opponent in Monday's 7 p.m. championship game?
For the record, that would be longtime ODU rival VCU. The fourth-seeded Rams upset top-seeded George Mason, 79-63, in Sunday's first semifinal.
"Who won the first game?" asked Taylor, deadpan delivery intact.
"I don't know," senior point guard Darius James answered immediately. "I was getting ready for our game."
James' performance in that game was every bit as fluid as his on-cue banter with his coach.
James, who averages 6.9 points per game, scored a season-high 16, including four in the first four minutes, to complement Frank Hassell's game-high 22 points in the post as the second-seeded Monarchs (26-6) pulled away from the third-seeded Pride (21-11) in the second half.
"Against a really good team like Old Dominion, you have to give up something, and we didn't think he'd make enough shots to beat us," Hofstra coach Mo Cassara said. "(But) he got comfortable, and when he's shooting the ball well, they become very hard to guard."
ODU, the defending CAA champion, shot 57 percent for the game. Kent Bazemore added 11 points and Keyon Carter had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Both teams opened the game firing, with the Monarchs making five of their first seven shots and the Pride going five for their first six, but Hofstra fell behind by 10 four minutes into the second half and couldn't fully recover.
James fueled the Monarchs' hot start, making a driving layup and a jumper from the top of the key, then hitting a 3-pointer with 10:05 left in the first half that put ODU up 22-21. He added another driving layup on his way to nine first-half points.
James, who was 7-of-9 from the floor and made two of the three 3-pointers he took, credited Hofstra's focus on ODU's inside game to opening up the lane. Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor also thought the long, athletic presence of 6-foot-5 guards Kent Bazemore and Ben Finney helped free James to operate.
"Darius has had to give himself to the team and be very unselfish, night after and night, and not get as many shots as he'd probably like," Taylor said. "Tonight, the way the Red Sea parted — they were worried about our wings — he stepped right in there like Moses."
James scored 14 points against Presbyterian on Dec. 23, one of just six times he'd reached double digits this season before Sunday. Two of those came in ODU's final two regular-season games.
"I just make plays when it presents itself," James said. "If you see it, take advantage of it."
ODU led 41-34 at halftime. Hofstra senior forward Greg Washington, who had seven first-half points, picked up his fourth foul early in the second, and the Monarchs took their first double-digit lead at 49-39 on Finney's steal and one-handed slam four minutes into the half.
Hofstra closed within six with 12 minutes left on a 3-pointer from CAA player of the year Charles Jenkins, who led five Pride players in double digits with 16 points. Jenkins was 4-of-5 from 3-point range but just 2-of-11 from inside the arc and didn't attempt a free throw for the first time this season.
Hofstra missed several chances to get even closer, though, and Hassell, fouled on a turnaround jumper, made two free throws with 10:08 to play to push ODU's lead back to 58-50. The Pride got no closer than seven the rest of the way and fell behind 72-61 on James' basket with 1:40 left.