By CAAZone.com Contributor “Razor Ramon”
The last game of 2011 for both Old Dominion University and the University of Missouri was going to be a nearly unpredictable affair going in. Was ODU going to be able to stay competitive against a team that was blowing out its competition by 25 points a game? Was Missouri just too good for the Monarchs or would ODU play above their heads and give the Tigers a game?
After attending one heck of a basketball game this past Friday night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, different people would come away with any multitude of opinions based on what they saw. The possibilities are numerous, was ODU really that good? Did Missouri play down to their competition? Were the Tigers rattled by the first road crowd they had seen all season? Will ODU’s sizeable rebounding advantage over Mizzou play out all season long like it has for them the last few seasons?
Everyone has different opinions on basketball games, that much is clear. The one thing that is not in dispute, however, is that the 8400+ that piled into the Ted saw a heck of a ballgame this past Friday night.
Nationally ranked Mizzou was taking on a scrappy, tough to beat at home Monarchs team that was turned up to “11″ for this one, and it really showed early on. From the outset, ODU matched Mizzou blow for blow, shot for shot and play for play, every made basket registering on any local richer scales as the Ted shook from the pumped up crowd cheering on the Monarchs every made basket.
The teams traded baskets for what seemed like the entire first half. ODU used a balanced offensive approach with 4 different players scoring between 5 and 9 points with Bazemore leading the way with 9. 7 ODU players had at least one basket in the first half and that balanced scoring was what allowed ODU to take a 4 point lead into the locker room at halftime.
Everyone in the building, however, knew Missouri would make a run and sure enough, that run came right out of the locker room. They made the first 5 three point shots they attempted in the second half, the final one being capped off by a Phil Pressey steal and dunk that forced Blaine Taylor to take a timeout and which gave the Tigers a 9 point lead.
Things could have really gone down hill at this point, as Missouri, entering the contest at 12-0, seemed likely to break the Monarch will and spirit, the way they had done to pretty much all but one team this season, as Illinois was the only team to stay within single digits of Mizzou up until now.
But the Monarch didn’t get rattled, they came out of the timeout cool, calm and collected and slowly but surely worked the Missouri lead down to a manageable total of between two and 4 points for an extended portion of the second half. One started to get the feeling that ODU needed to get over the hump if they were going to have a chance in this game, and sure enough, they did, as Dmitri Batten’s jumper tied the game at 60 a piece at the 4:22 mark in the second half.
Then, after a defensive stop, with the crowd roaring it’s approval, Kent Bazemore set a slip screen, Dmitri Batten fired him the ball as he cut to the rim and Bazemore flushed it down for 2 to finally give ODU back the lead that it had worked extremely hard to reclaim.
All the momentum was on ODU’s side. The crowd was screaming at full throat, Missouri even looked a little rattled as he had seen his team trailing in the second half for only the second time this year. But Missouri knew what they had in store. They knew that they were undefeated for a reason, because when the pressure was on, they knew they could rise above.
And rise above they did. After exchanging back to back buckets with ODU, the score was 67 to 67 with 1:24 to play and ODU had the ball and the chance to take the lead. The Tigers stepped up their pressure defense, forcing a bad jumper from Kent Bazemore which lead to a run out for Mizzou and a wide open 3 pointer from Marcus Denmon, his fourth of the game, gave Mizzou a 3 point lead that they would never relinquish.
Frank Haith made the decision to double team Bazemore every time he touched the ball in the last 2 minutes and that decision really won the game for the Tigers as it forced several sloppy possessions from ODU with bad shots and turnovers all ODU could muster as it tried to rally to win.
A veteran coaching move from Haith, who has his team playing as good of basketball as any team in the country right now. Missouri could have easily looked past this game and got caught by an ODU team that was as hungry as any ODU team I have seen play all season. ODU was jacked through the roof, played well enough to win the game but Missouri simply would not be denied as their veteran leadership and intelligent coaching decisions in the clutch were just a little bit more than the Monarchs could handle.
There were very encouraging signs for both teams in this game, however, as Mizzou can come away knowing that they were tested significantly and unlike in past years, they passed that test on the road. ODU can come away with a sense that it can play big boy basketball this year and as long as the effort is there, this team could do very good things heading into CAA play.
A very enjoyable game for all involved and a heck of a way to send out 2011 in style. A fitting end to a 2011 that saw ODU win it’s second CAA tourney championship in a row at one end of the year and incredible battle against a top 8 team at home to end the year. All in all, not too bad.