Another night, another painful loss for ODU as Monarchs fall to Georgia State

NORFOLK — Anyone who thinks Old Dominion has grown accustomed to or comfortable with losing should perhaps be given access to the movies that play in Imo Essien’s head.

The junior guard relives each loss until the next opportunity approaches, unable to turn off the reel that tells the story of the latest near-miss.

Saturday rendered the mental equivalent of “Titanic,” both in its length relative to most other films and in the disastrous nature of its ending.

Julian Mackey scored 16 points and the Monarchs failed to capitalize on a late opportunity after a frantic comeback as Georgia State held on for a 68-65 Sun Belt Conference win over ODU at still-raucous Chartway Arena.

The last-place Monarchs (6-21, 2-12 Sun Belt) lost for the fifth straight time and the 14th time in 16 games, falling by eight points or fewer nine times in that span.

An announced crowd of 5,996, nearly all of them standing, watched as ODU botched an inbounds play from beneath its own basket with four seconds left to keep the Panthers (12-14, 6-8) ahead by a point.

An inbounds play from the other end of the court resulted in a 75-foot heave that was nowhere close as time expired.

It capped a baffling 5½-minute stretch in which the Monarchs failed to muster a single field goal.

ODU had found yet another way to lose a close game.

“By and large, we had good looks, and the shots just didn’t go,” acting head coach Kieran Donohue said of the extended drought. “One of these days, hopefully, maybe Lady Luck will slide over to our side. We would welcome her with open arms, because these kids, they’re battling. They are battling. They need a break, and we just weren’t able to make the break happen that we needed tonight.”

From beside his team’s basket on the decisive play, Essien lobbed an inbounds pass intended for leading scorer Chaunce Jenkins in the paint. The goal, Donohue said, was to have Jenkins pluck the pass out of the sky and take it to the hole.

But senior guard Ty Williams, stationed between Jenkins and the basket, jumped and got a hand on the lob, tipping it to Georgia State’s Jay’Den Turner.

The pass, Essien said, was errant.

“We didn’t get what we wanted, so nah, it wasn’t where I wanted it to be,” he said. “That’s miscommunication. I had the ball out and it ended up in a turnover. That’s on me. I thought I saw something, and it didn’t go the way I wanted it to. That’s it.”

On the game’s final play, Jenkins and Essien were set to take the inbounds pass on either side of the court. Both players were forced toward the passer by the defense, resulting in Jenkins’ decidedly low-percentage shot.

ODU’s players, Donohue said, tipped their hand by moving before the ball was put in play.

“We got the ball inbounds,” Donohue said. “We got the ball to one of the two guys we were trying to get the ball to. It’s a tough situation. You’ve got to let it fly, and we did. It just was a little short.”

Jenkins, a junior guard out of Menchville High in Newport News, led the Monarchs with 22 points.

ODU shot 45.6% to the Panthers’ 35.9%, converting 4 of 22 from 3-point range.

The Monarchs, trailing 44-32 in the opening minutes of the second half, went on a 10-0 run to make it a game again.

Another 10-0 burst gave ODU a 59-52 lead with 8½ minutes left before things went cold.

After Essien assisted Dani Pounds from the paint for a dunk with 5:35 remaining to give his team a 64-59 lead, the Monarchs managed only a Jenkins free throw.

Essien knew he was in for a long night after leaving the arena.

“You constantly replay certain plays in your head and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s like it’s really no stopping that. If you’re really a ballplayer who cares about this, cares about winning, cares about your team, this atmosphere, this university, that’s how it’s going to be. I’m going to go home and I’m going to think like, ‘Ah, I should’ve done this,’ or, ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ That’s just how it is.”

ODU has endured no shortage of challenges this season, including the heart attack suffered by head coach Jeff Jones on Dec. 20. The Monarchs this season have dismissed forward Dericko Williams, who was expected to be a much-needed force in the paint, and leading scorer Vasean Allette, both for disciplinary reasons.

ODU closes the regular season with home games against first-place Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina before visits to App State and Georgia Southern. The Sun Belt Tournament begins March 5 in Pensacola, Florida.

But first came one more painful loss in a long string of them.

“The closer the game, the more it hurts, for sure,” Essien said.

“You wish you could have one or two plays back, one or two shots go in, one or two more stops. Those thoughts go through your head.”

The Panthers closed the first half with an 11-4 run to take a 36-32 lead at the break.

ODU made 5 of its first 8 shots to take an 11-4 lead, bookending a back-and-forth half that saw five lead changes in one late 4½-minute span.

Both Essien and Donohue were effusive in their praise for the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, a massive gathering to see a 6-21 team that still manages to give its fans reasons to cheer.

“Our players haven’t given in,” Donohue said. “Our players haven’t quit. Our fans haven’t given in. Our fans haven’t quit. It is noticed, and it is greatly appreciated. We are very lucky. We do not take it for granted.”

David Hall,