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ODU, Corrigan come home with confidence after first win of 2013

By Dave Fairbank, dfairbank@dailypress.com | 757-247-4637

5:53 PM EST, February 8, 2013

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NORFOLK — In the midst of an unsettled and uncertain couple of days, Jim Corrigan's message to Old Dominion's basketball players was upbeat and simple.

Corrigan found himself as interim head coach in the wake of Blaine Taylor's abrupt firing Tuesday, and had to prepare the Monarchs for a trip to face preseason favorite Drexel two days later.

"We all find ourselves in a situation that we didn't have any control of, me as a coach, them as players," Corrigan said he told the players. "Let's worry about what we can control.

"The first thing I said was, let's try to look forward and not back. The second thing I said was, play hard. Just play hard. Go out there and give it everything you've got. The third thing I talked about was just being together. We're in this together. We've got to stick together."

Heeding the new boss's advice, the Monarchs played loosely and confidently and got their first win since Dec. 22, a 78-66 decision that helped overcome the turmoil of the previous days.

The Monarchs' first CAA victory of the season provides a boost heading into Saturday's 4 p.m. home game against league leader Northeastern.

"For me, personally, it was very encouraging," junior Donte Hill said. "It shows that we're getting better. People made a big deal about the fact that Coach Taylor wasn't with us, but he built this team and he continued to say after every game that we were getting better: 'You're getting better, you're getting better.' We got over the hump (Thursday) night and now we're trying to sustain it."

The Monarchs staged a short, spirited practice Friday at the Constant Center. They're in the midst of a stretch of three games in five days, which allows little time to ponder Taylor's dismissal or long-term consequences.

"It's been kind of confusing," Hill said. " 'Confusing' is probably the best word to describe it. Obviously, we don't know too much about the situation or the details of what's going on. The first thing that Coach Corrigan put on the board was, 'Look Forward.' That's what we're trying to do."

Freshman Aaron Bacote said, "Regardless of who's the coach, we've still got to come out and play hard, give effort for the fans and each other. Just be thankful for the opportunity to play college basketball and get a free education. I didn't think a lot about the coaching change. I know I've still got to come to practice every day, still work hard. Nothing really changes except the leadership at the top. Getting that win made it a little easier."

As in many of its previous games, ODU was competitive and engaged. Unlike previous games, the Monarchs responded to an opponent's run and pulled away.

After Drexel took a 39-38 lead early in the second half, ODU went on a 21-4 run to open a comfortable lead. The Dragons, experiencing their own disappointing season, never got closer than 12 points.

"We sustained our effort," Hill said. "Usually, we played hard in spurts, but we played hard continuously. I think we kind of wore them down. You could see it in their faces. I think they were kind of depleted by our ongoing pressure and the way we played defensively."

The CAA's worst-shooting 3-point team made 8 of 16 from behind the arc and shot 65 percent from the field in the second half, continually attacking and shooting with confidence. They held Drexel leading scorer Damion Lee without a point and limited superb point guard Frantz Massenat to two points in the second half.

"Given the circumstances, it was a really big win," Corrigan said. "They did a heck of a job. They competed the entire game, every possession and I'm just really happy for them."

Corrigan, an assistant at ODU for the past 19 years and overall for 26 years, said that he received more than 200 congratulatory text messages, many from fellow assistant coaches. He joked Friday that he might step down so that he could retire undefeated.

He said that the compressed schedule has given him little time to reflect, or to even get nervous before his college head coaching debut.

"In the time leading up to it, there was too much going on," he said. "Once we got to the arena, about an hour beforehand, the nerves started tingling a little bit. Once the jump ball went up, there were no nerves. You're focused on what you're doing, what's going on. You're trying to manage the game."

The Monarchs have seven games remaining. They are ineligible for the CAA tournament, since the school's athletic program is moving to Conference USA next year.

"It's been hectic," Bacote said. "We're going through a crucial stretch of the season, anyway. A lot of back-to-back games — game, practice, game, practice. We just rally around each other. We're trying to stick together. We pick each other up, keep each other positive and try to finish out the season strong."