Old Dominion rallies in second half to defeat Florida Atlantic

The SportsXchange

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The Old Dominion Monarchs came to South Florida with the expressed goal of sweeping the two-game trip against their new Conference USA brethren.

The Monarchs got what they wanted, but probably not quite the way they expected.

With their leading scorer, guard Aaron Bacote (17.5 ppg), out with an ankle injury, the Monarchs overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to beat the Florida Atlantic Owls 65-60 on Saturday night.

"It feels good," ODU coach Jeff Jones said. "It didn't look like it for a long time tonight, but our guys really gutted it out."

Coupled with their win at Florida International in nearby Miami two nights earlier, the Monarchs (9-9, 3-0) extended their winning streak to four games and got back to .500 for the first time since they were 4-4 back on Dec. 3.

FAU (6-12, 2-2) had its winning streak snapped at two games.

"We didn't really take care of the ball," said FAU center Justin Raffington, who had game highs in points (16) and rebounds (12) to record his sixth straight double-double. "We had way too many turnovers (15) and didn't get some key rebounds, especially toward the end of the game."

The Monarchs trailed 40-30 early in the second half and were still back by eight, 49-41, when they began their decisive run. Guard Keenan Palmore, the leader of the win over Florida International with 17 points, ignited the comeback with a jumper on his way to a team-high 15 points.

Forward Richard Ross' shot in the lane gave the Monarchs their first lead since the first half, 54-53, and they went on from there.

Staying together was the key, said guard Ambrose Mosley, who took over for the injured Bacote and scored nine points in his first start.

"We had together on their runs because they had the crowd with them and their momentum," Mosley said. "Coach told us to keep our heads up."

After struggling in the first half, when they shot only 28.0 percent from the field and took nearly six minutes before scoring their first basket, the Monarchs woke up after the break. They were 16 of 22 from the floor (72.7 percent) in the second half.

"It's crazy, isn't it?" FAU coach Mike Jarvis said of the turnaround.

That wasn't the only thing working against his team, Jarvis said. He lamented his team's performance at the free-throw line, where the Owls made only nine of 17 chances.

The Monarchs weren't much better, making 15 of 24, but the 62.5 percent success rate was slightly better than their 60.5 percentage coming into the game.

Jones said defense turned things around for the Monarchs.

"In the second half, we were scoring," Jones said. "Our offense was fine. We were scoring at a pretty high percentage -- 72 percent in the second half -- but we couldn't get stops."

Once they managed that, they took control at both ends.

With the Monarchs struggling to get going at the start, the Owls jumped out to a 7-2 lead and led for all but one brief moment in the first half, when ODU went up 18-17. But Raffington got his team back on top with a short bank shot and the Owls worked their way to a 27-21 advantage at the break.

The Owls boosted that to a double-digit bulge less than seven minutes into the second period. The Monarchs went on a 9-0 run to cut that back to one point, 40-39, but with 8:30 left in the game, their deficit was back to eight points, 49-41.

That's when the Monarchs put on their final run.

The victory put the Monarchs into a tie with Louisiana Tech at the top of the C-USA standings and is a remarkable turnaround from the 1-8 stretch that started in late November.

"It's nice to get off to that start," Jones said, reflecting on the three road wins in league play. "There's still a lot of basketball to be played, but I think our guys are gaining confidence with each win."

NOTES: G Aaron Bacote sat out at FAU after injuring his ankle midway the first half at FIU on Thursday. ODU coach Jeff Jones said he "could have" played him, but didn't want risk further harm to Bacote's ankle. "He wasn't going to be 100 percent," Jones said. ... The Monarchs are back home to face Southern Mississippi on Thursday night. The Golden Eagles are 15-3 overall and 2-1 in the conference heading into a Sunday afternoon game against C-USA leader Louisiana Tech. ... FAU steps out of league play to host Harvard on Tuesday night in its next outing.
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