5:37 PM EST, February 12, 2011
Prior to Saturday afternoon's game at VCU, Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig encountered a young Rams fan in the men's room.
The fan didn't know Selig but knew the Monarchs' sweater he was sporting.
"ODU sucks," the fan said good-naturedly.
Indeed, the Monarchs are about as welcome in the Siegel Center as Mubarak in Cairo. They are the Rams' fiercest rival, and they'd lost 10 times here in 11 previous visits.
In one of its most complete efforts this season, ODU dominated the interior and ended the nation's fourth-longest home-court winning streak at 22 games.
"They put in quite an effort," coach Blaine Taylor said of his Monarchs after the nationally televised 70-59 victory.
The effort was most evident in the paint, where ODU outscored VCU 46-18 and won the rebounding battle 46-21.
"That's just ridiculous," Rams center Jamie Skeen said of the disparity.
Indeed, even though the Monarchs rank second nationally in rebounding margin at plus-11 per game, Saturday's gap was stunning. Especially considering ODU outrebounded VCU by a scant four in their first meeting, a 59-50 Rams' win last month.
"We watched the tape," James said of the first game. "It wasn't anything they were doing to us. It was things we were doing to ourselves."
Among the Monarchs' issues that day, James said: Senseless turnovers and failing to box out.
Those problems were solved Saturday.
"Killed us on the boards, killed us in the paint," VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez said, "and that's not just the bigs. That's the guards' fault, too."
Frank Hassell and Ben Finney each had double-doubles, Hassell with 18 points and 11 boards, Finney with 15 and 11, plus a game-high six assists.
Guard Kent Bazemore added 13 points, six rebounds and three steals. He had the game's most spectacular bucket on an alley-oop and scored the first six points of the second half to goose ODU's lead to 38-24.
The Monarchs (20-6, 11-4 Colonial Athletic Association) never ceded command thereafter. They shot 51.7 percent in the second half, a crisp 48.3 for the game, and when that accurate, ODU is a load for anyone from any conference.
That's because the Monarchs are consistent defensively and on the boards. Saturday, for the second consecutive game, Taylor abandoned his preferred man-to-man D and played mostly zones.
"It was kind of a last-minute decision," he said. "I anticipated playing a little more man-to-man than we did."
The zones worked, just as they did Wednesday at William and Mary, just as they did last March in an NCAA tournament upset of Notre Dame.
VCU (20-7, 12-3) shot 37.3 percent, 25.9 from beyond the 3-point arc. Rodriguez missed 12-of-14 shots, Skeen 4-of-5.
Skeen leads the Rams in scoring and rebounding with averages of 15.2 and 7.8. Saturday he had seven and seven.
"We minimized Skeen," Taylor said. "That's really a credit to our team, understanding him and trying to make (his) life tough."
Poor shooting also prevented VCU from pressing as much as coach Shaka Smart prefers. And when the Rams were able to press, the Monarchs attacked, scoring on dunks and layups.
"We came out aggressive and finished aggressive," James said.
Taylor admired the Monarchs' effort, even when they didn't score. An empty possession that included three offensive rebounds "showed our passion … about trying to get the job done," he said.
Saturday's job was critical. Even with a lofty Rating Percentage Index rank of 31 and quality non-conference victories, ODU could ill-afford to fall further behind in the CAA race and lose a second time to an opponent that's also an NCAA tournament contender.
Add the hostile, sellout crowd of 7,552 and the bleak history here …
"I thought our kids measured up to that very well," Taylor said.
Players and coaches both. The Monarchs scored the game's first eight points and never trailed.
Three of ODU's remaining four regular-season games are at home, the exception a testy trip to James Madison. There's also next Sunday's BracketBusters visit from Cleveland State — the Vikings' Norris Cole had 41 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists Saturday against Youngstown State.
"What'd he do in the second half?" Taylor quipped.
'Twas that kind of day for ODU, a day to have the last laugh.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP