NEW ORLEANS—Old Dominion loses just two seniors from the 27-9 team that lost to Baylor 76-68 in Saturday's second-round NCAA game, returning six of their top seven scorers and their top three rebounders.
Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor's thoughts, though, were more on the two players who won't be back: senior forward Gerald Lee, sitting to Taylor's left in the post-game press conference with red-rimmed eyes, and guard Marsharee Neely.
"Your seniors have come a long ways the last three or four years," Taylor said. "So it's hard to see what could be beyond this."
Lee, ODU's all-time leader in games played at 136, came into Saturday ranked 13th on the Monarchs' all-time scoring list with 1,609 career points. Against Baylor, he scored 15 points 10 in the first half and had one rebound. Lee was 4-of-8 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line.
"It's a great group of guys, and it's been wonderful to play with them," Lee said. "We've done a lot of big things. Winning the conference championship was a very big thing, and winning the first game in the NCAA was a big thing, but unfortunately, today we couldn't win."
STILL GOING STRONG While Lee's career came to an end, Baylor senior guard Tweety Carter kept his alive, along with Baylor's remarkable rise. Carter, the first McDonald's All-American to sign with a Baylor program whose only major headlines since Final Four appearances in 1948 and 1950 had been generated by the shooting death of former player Patrick Dennehy in 2003, scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half and finished with eight assists.
"This win means a lot," Carter said. "(But) we can't celebrate like I want to because we've still got work to do." What celebrating Carter did was on familiar turf. In his six varsity seasons at Reserve Christian in Reserve, La., Carter scored 7,457 points, making him the highest-scoring high school player in U.S. history.
LUMBERING LOMERS? Apparently, Baylor 7-foot center Josh Lomers' 14-point, eight-rebound was a bit of a surprise.
Lomers averaged 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in the regular season, though he did put up 12 against Kansas State on March 12. Still, a Baylor beat reporter began a question about Lomers' effort against ODU by saying, "For most of the year, Josh has been the big clumsy guy that sets screens for you "
"Josh appreciates that," Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
Carter took up for his teammate. "To other eyes he's been that, but we always looked at him as our rock down low," he said. "He holds us together."
EXPECTED RUN Carter was unsurprised by ODU's rally from a 10-point halftime deficit.
"I thought we didn't come out (in the second half) with the same intensity," he said. "And the fight that Old Dominion had tonight, you know, a great team's going to make runs.
"As long as you withstand them and pull it back together, I think you'll be all right. It's something that you don't want, but it's college basketball. It's a 40-minute game.
"You're going to have teams that make runs, and we've just got to learn how to handle it."
Carter and fellow point guard A.J. Walton combined for 12 points (all Carter's), 11 assists, three steals and no turnovers.
Baylor coach Scott Drew had a slightly different take on ODU's comeback.
"I would rather than say we lacked energy, credit Old Dominion," he said. "I mean, they came down, and let's face it, (Ben) Finney hits two big threes. They go 4 for 6 in the second half from three. All season long that hadn't been their strong point. Their strong point had been inside. They stepped up and made plays.
"We turned the ball over, (and) that led to them getting back in the game and getting a run in. When we stopped turning the ball over, that changed things as well."
BIG 12 SURPRISE
Baylor, which finished tied for second in the Big 12, is in the Sweet 16. Texas and Kansas are not.
"For (our) league, I wish both of them were still in," Drew said. "I'm disappointed for both of them, because they're quality teams and we'd like to have seen them go further and to have seen an all-Big 12 Final Four."