The college basketball season is a journey in every way, and few demonstrated that better this year than Old Dominion.
The Monarchs’ 2014-15 campaign was truly a long and eventful one, full of ups and downs, successes and disappointments. It may not have always lived up to expectations on the outside, but there were plenty of reasons for that. Still, it would be hard to argue that ODU didn’t make the best of it.
That was illustrated again Wednesday night, when in their 38th game the Monarchs edged Oakland 68-67 to win the first-ever Vegas 16 tournament title. ODU ended an up-and-down season on a high and also won a debuting postseason tourney for the second time, having also taken the initial CollegeInsider.com Tournament in 2009.
Old Dominion came into 2015-16 with high expectations after going 27-8 and narrowly missing an NCAA Tournament bid last year before regrouping to make a trip to the NIT semifinals. Although many players returned from that team-including star guard Trey Freeman-the core of the team’s interior did not, and that resulted in a disappointing 4-6 start and early losses to teams such as Purdue, Saint Joseph’s and VCU, the type of squads ODU beat a year earlier in making a strong case for the NCAAs.
Not helping the Monarchs were a series of suspensions and a pair of player dismissals during the season. Despite all of that, ODU figured it out late, winning seven straight before a two-point loss to Middle Tennessee State in the Conference USA final, and then sweeping three games in the Vegas 16. In all, the Monarchs won 10 of their final 11 games and finished a more-than respectable 25-13 for the season.
Wednesday’s game also was a matchup of two of the best scoring guards in the country, and it did not disappoint. Freeman and Oakland’s Kahlil Felder both scored 24 points each, but ODU’s Brandan Stith provided the difference with 14 points and 15 rebounds and sent out seniors Freeman, Aaron Bacote, Nik Biberaj and Martin Shaw out as winners. Which isn’t that surprising, since it’s something this group has done a lot the past two years.
- Meanwhile, the CBI will go to a deciding third game for the seventh time in the event’s nine-year history (yes, it really has been around that long). Nevada outlasted stubborn Morehead State 77-68, leading almost the whole way and making plays late after the Eagles closed within three points late.
The Wolf Pack evened the series despite committing 21 turnovers and taking 25 less field goal attempts than the Eagles. Nevada shot 50% from the floor and also owned a 42-24 advantage in free throw tries. Morehead State pounded the offensive glass as usual (17 offensive boards) but shot just 37.7%, including 1 of 16 from three-point range. D.J. Fenner scored 26 points for the Wolf Pack and Marqueze Coleman hit a huge triple with 2:58 left after Morehead had moved within 63-60.
Nevada will hold a significant advantage in the final game on Friday, with it also being held in Reno. One team will emerge with its first-ever postseason tournament title at any level. Also, we mentioned it on Twitter but will also mention it here-ESPN’s Mitch Holthus along with Sean Harrington have done a terrific job calling the games in this tourney, giving the teams the respect that they deserve. This series has been no exhibition; it’s truly two tough, hard-working teams battling it out, the announcers have treated it exactly as that, and the third game should be a lot of fun.
- In a search that is somewhat surprisingly not getting much national attention, Arkansas-Little Rock has its man and will announce its new coach Thursday, who is expected to be Wes Flanigan, per reports by Arkansas Online. Flanigan was the associate head coach with the Trojans this past year during their stunning romp to a 30-5 record and a win in the NCAA Tournament. (One would think an NCAA round of 32 team hiring a new coach would get a little more attention than this one has, even when it is a school out of the spotlight like UALR.) Flanigan is a former Auburn player (1993-97) and a Little Rock native, and this should be a good move to preserve some continuity after Chris Beard left after just one year.
- Army has its new coach, as assistant Jimmy Allen has been promoted to the top spot. Allen was an assistant to Zach Spiker for the past six years at West Point. He does have previous head coaching experience, having led the program at NCAA Division III Averett (Va.) for six years before coming to Army.
- Saint Louis also made it official, formally announcing the hiring of Travis Ford less than a day after saying no decision had been made on a coach yet.
- Turner Sports has announced that it plans to debut a new artist to sing ‘One Shining Moment,’ the wonderful song + highlights television close to the NCAA Tournament for the past 30 years. As many have noted, the last time CBS tried this with Jennifer Hudson singing, it was an unqualified disaster (in large part because a good share of the highlights were replaced with shots of the singer, an American Idol-ization of a piece that doesn’t need it). While many in recent years have grown attached to the version by the late, great Luther Vandross, we grew up listening to the one by the song’s writer, David Barrett. And if the TV networks were really aiming for the song at its best-and not production, not big names-that’s who it should go back to.
- The championship game of the 79th annual NIT features Valparaiso and George Washington (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN). Both teams are looking for their first-ever title in this event. Should be an outstanding game, two excellent teams .
- The College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships also are held. (9 p.m., ESPN) Among the participants in the men’s three-point contest are Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes of Michigan State and Max Landis of IPFW, and contestants in the dunk contest include Deuce Bello of East Tennessee State and Shaquille Harrison of Tulsa.
Have a nice Thursday.