NEW ORLEANS (AP)—Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor is one of the NCAA tournament’s most entertaining talkers.
Before his team’s first-round win over Notre Dame, he joked that he’d taken a few of the Fighting Irish to Bourbon Street for St. Patrick’s Day and given them the wrong start time for their game against his Monarchs.
Now, as Old Dominion prepares to face third-seeded Baylor, Taylor is devising a new defense.
“We’ve been working on the box-and-five,” Taylor said Friday. “We think if we can get away with it, we think it will be very strategic.”
For all of Taylor’s joking around, the 11th-seeded Monarchs are very serious about their chances Saturday in the second round of the South Regional. Old Dominion shut down Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody in its victory Thursday, and in a tournament with plenty of upsets already, the thought of a double-digit seed reaching the round of 16 isn’t far fetched.
Baylor, meanwhile, outlasted Sam Houston State for its first NCAA tournament win in 60 years. The victory was a big milestone for a program that only a few years ago was banned from playing non-conference games as part of NCAA penalties for numerous violations under former coach Dave Bliss.
“We don’t focus on the past,” guard LaceDarius Dunn said. “We don’t get caught up in the things that happened at Baylor when we weren’t here.”
Sam Houston State used an unusual triangle-and-two defense to try to slow down Baylor’s explosive backcourt of Dunn and Tweety Carter. It worked for most of the game, so Taylor was asked whether he might try something similar. After his “box-and-five” joke, Taylor said he’s unlikely to resort to any tricks. Old Dominion (27-8) played a solid zone against Notre Dame and got enough offense from frontcourt players Frank Hassell and Gerald Lee to pull out a win.
The Monarchs held Notre Dame to 36 percent shooting.
“I don’t consider us to be a weak defensive team. A lot of times you gimmick when you are masking the inability to match up at certain spots,” Taylor said. “That hasn’t been our modus operandi. Ours has been to come pretty straight at you with maybe different looks, but not with the gimmick stuff.”
Baylor (26-7) eventually came away with a 68-59 victory over Sam Houston State. It was a stressful win, but one that could give the Bears some confidence now that they’ve survived.
The last time Baylor won two games in the NCAA tournament was in 1948, and that pair of wins was enough to put the team in the national championship game, which it lost to Kentucky.
“I think just the feel you get from winning a close game is something that you can’t measure. That confidence you get from that and the closeness it brings a team,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “That only bad thing is Old Dominion had a close win as well.”
Baylor forward Ekpe Udoh had 20 points and 13 rebounds against that weird Sam Houston State defense, and the Bears finally pulled away in the last three minutes to break their six-decade tournament drought. Taylor took note of the celebration afterward.
“I sensed there a little extra glee,” Taylor said. “For a three seed, you know, and to be where they are in the Big 12, to win a first-round game against Sam Houston State, I was kind of looking at them. They were pretty giddy.
“I didn’t realize until later how much of an achievement it had been to get to the tournament, to win a game and to advance. I’m sure they’re thinking this is going to be a memorable run for their people, but I would caution that in our setting, we feel the same way.”