Offense will determine Monarchs' postseason fate

WASHINGTON —

Old Dominion's early-February loss at George Mason hardly merited breaking-news alerts or a flurry of on-site tweets.

The Monarchs' seniors are 0-4 at Mason, with an average deficit of 18.5 points.

But this 62-45 flogging was different.


Get the Baltimore Football app for iPhone and Android

Never to be confused with the Showtime Lakers, ODU shot a season-worst 27.3 percent and missed 14-of-15 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc. No amount of defense and rebounding, long the program's calling cards, could mask this mountainous wart.

The Monarchs responded with a players-only meeting in which egos were not spared but roles were clearly defined.

Coach Blaine Taylor responded with a shift of practice emphasis, obsessing over shot selection rather than defense.

The result: a nine-game winning streak that carries ODU (27-6) into Thursday's NCAA tournament game against Butler (23-9) at the Verizon Center.

"We've had to work hard on that area and making sure that we (take) our shots, the kind of shots we want in contrast to what somebody else might (want us to take)," Taylor said. "I think our kids have kind of learned how to play off each other better, use our system to set the table for themselves and certainly part of is them just stepping up and making the shot, too."

But shouldn't four returning starters from an NCAA tournament team have assured the Monarchs a seamless offense? Not when the one missing starter was leading scorer Gerald Lee.

Absent Lee, veterans Frank Hassell, Kent Bazemore, Ben Finney and Darius James envisioned more prominent roles for themselves. Such visions were natural, not selfish, assistant coach Jim Corrigan said, and rooted in the quest to win multiple games in this year's NCAA.

Since the Mason loss, ODU is shooting 48 percent. In the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals and final, the Monarchs shot 57.1 and 58.5 percent, respectively.

When that efficient and accurate, ODU is absolutely capable of matching the Final Four runs of fellow "mid-majors" George Mason and Butler.

"There's not a team in this nation, in this tournament that … can instill fear in our heart," Bazemore said. "We feel like we can play with anybody, and we've been proving that of late. We're rolling now. Don't mark us off too early. We're ready."

Corrigan stressed that coaches did not "revamp" the Monarchs' offense.

"We're still running the same stuff. It was all up here," he said, tapping his noggin.

Taylor concurred.

"I think what kids try to do is build their whole world around scoring a basket," he said, "and that's almost too bad. … Certainly most of these kids were scorers in their high school setting. … But a lot of times you have to go a little slower.

"It's John Wooden's old line, 'Go quick don't hurry.' I think a lot of kids hurry trying to get that first shot, have that really great game, and sometimes they try to get it in the first two minutes."

ODU's go-to scorer since the Mason loss has been power forward Frank Hassell. He's averaging 19.4 points and shooting 65 percent during the nine-game binge.

Perhaps as important, he's become more adept passing out of double-teams, which makes teammates likelier to feed him in the low post. Hassell scoring on the block and creating open jumpers for teammates has improved the Monarchs' shot selection and accuracy.

"We as teammates know when a guy takes a shot he shouldn't, and he knows that, too," Bazemore said. "All you have to do is give them a look, or Coach Taylor will give them a look. We've been playing together for a while, so we pretty much know."

Hassell is also the linchpin of the Monarchs' No. 1 national rebounding margin. ODU claims the rebound on more than 40 percent of its missed shots.

No coincidentally, the Monarchs rank 54th nationally in offensive efficiency stats compiled by Ken Pomeroy, a quantum leap from last season's No. 82 rating.

"I like to think my team is a pretty relaxed, confident team, passionate about competing, believe that we can succeed," Taylor said.

ODU defeated Notre Dame in last season's tournament but has never advanced in consecutive years.

"That would be pretty cool," Taylor said. "But I think we're looking at this year's tournament in a nutshell, what can we get done this year? … I certainly think we can win games. I don't think there's anyone we can't play against."

Not if they shoot straight.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

PHOTO GALLERIES