Old Dominion is tied for first in a very competitive CAA race, which pleases coach Blaine Taylor. The pattern by which the Monarchs have done so concerns him.
Last Saturday's win against Hofstra was the fourth time in the past five games that the Monarchs (10-8, 5-1 CAA) fell behind early and had to dig out of double-figure holes. ODU won three of those four, including a pair of road OT wins at James Madison and Delaware, respectively.
"I couldn't feel more fortunate that we're sitting here in the middle of this league race in a decent spot," Taylor said, "because we put all those lessons to use, we put all the challenges to use, and we have turned it into a positive mid-January standing.
"But I think if our team is to succeed, we have to have more growth. We can't keep depending on the comebacks and the close finishes. Although we're pretty experienced at it and we're not bad at it."
ODU has played five overtime games already, tying a school record. The Monarchs have won four. They trailed by 12 at JMU with 11 minutes remaining, by 12 to George Mason late in the first half, by 10 at Delaware with 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half, and most recently 16-3 to Hofstra six minutes in.
The Monarchs won three of the four, falling to George Mason 63-54 when they shot miserably and when 22 offensive rebounds yielded an almost unfathomable two second-chance points.
Poor shooting is a primary reason ODU often finds itself in early holes, until the team can start to boa constrictor opponents with defense and rebounding. The 'Narchs are last in the CAA in shooting (.394 from the field, .296 from 3-point range) and from the foul line (.604), in the non-Towson portion of the team statistics.
They have been especially inaccurate in recent first halves, Towson excepted. Against Hofstra, the 'Narchs started 1-for-8 and finished 12-for-28 for the half. Against Delaware, they were 10-for-36, against Mason 11-for-33 (followed up with 7-for-28 in the second half), and at JMU 8-for-32.
Part of that is due to the player rotation. Of late, Taylor has brought two of his best players, seniors Chris Cooper and Trian Iliadis, off the bench. Though they're playing starter minutes, that follows Taylor's philosophy of being more attuned to who ends games rather than who starts them. He's often more judicious with first-half minutes for the best players, wanting them fresh at the end.
"I think even our players would say, 'Gosh, we can't keep falling behind,' but we do," Taylor said. "I think part of it is that good teams are really ready. You've got to give them credit. I think they've played well early. I think we've played into it, we've fallen short.
"But we don't panic. One of the things that I would say is we have enough character and enough chemistry to where we don't panic. I'm not calling timeouts left and right. We're down 16-3 to Hofstra and we just kind of regroup and start plugging away and pretty soon we crawl back into the game."
To ODU's benefit, the league isn't chock full of teams that make first-half, double-figure deficits insurmountable. Plus, the Monarchs are good enough defensively and on the boards to climb back into games. They held Hofstra leading scorer Mike Moore to two points in the second half after he had 19 in the first. They held Delaware forward Jamelle Hagins scoreless. They outrebounded JMU by 19 and Delaware by 14.
"It's a little bit of experience from years past and games past," Taylor said. "It's a little bit of, we do have the ability to play this game, and we just seem to play in stretches. So if we have a bad stretch, a lot of times we follow it up with a good stretch."
From the Tarpit: ODU keeps winning, but keeps falling behind early
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