NORFOLK, Va. — For Old Dominion, the plan was for defense to set up the offense.
The strategy worked perfectly Thursday night.
On one end, the Monarchs harassed East Carolina into its worst shooting performance of the season, 29.8 percent. On the other, Old Dominion shot a season-high 59.2 percent. Not surprisingly, the result was a resounding 68-47 victory for the Monarchs in the teams’ final Conference USA regular-season game at the Constant Convocation Center.
“There wasn’t a whole lot we didn’t do well,” Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones said. “These guys were ready to play. To have this kind of performance at home to wrap up the regular season, it’s was just a great night for us.”
The pivotal sequence came early in the second half when the Monarchs turned an offensive rebound and two steals into six points in a 44-second span.
Forward Richard Ross’ put-back of guard Aaron Bacote’s errant 3-pointer got the decisive sequence started. Guard Keenan Palmore quickly followed by converting a steal into a fast-break layup, and guard Dimitri Batten used another steal to set up an emphatic dunk that forced a Pirates timeout and put the Monarchs ahead by 13 points with 17:01 remaining.
“During that timeout, I told them, ‘We did it with our defense,’ and that we needed to continue to play that defense,” Jones said. “The offense will come.”
Did it ever. The Monarchs torched East Carolina’s 2-3 zone for 70.8 shooting in the second half, hitting six of 10 3-point attempts after the break. Their 59.2 percent mark for the game eclipsed the 56.4 percent they shot at East Carolina on Jan. 11.
“They shot it great tonight,” East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said. “The 3-pointers, that’s probably not their strength. But they made them tonight.”
The Pirates, by contrast, missed 19 of their first 23 shots after the break. They also missed nine of 23 free throws.
“The effort was good,” Lebo said. “We just couldn’t score.”
With the victory, the Monarchs (15-16, 9-7 Conference USA) finished the regular season with three times as many wins as they managed in 2012-13, when they went 5-25.
Guard Ambrose Mosley hit five of 10 3-pointers and finished with 17 points to lead four Monarchs in double figures.
Swingman Caleb White scored 12 points, and guard Paris Roberts-Campbell added 10 for East Carolina (16-15, 5-11). However, guard Akeem Richmond, the Pirates’ leading scorer at 18.4 points per game, was hounded by Palmore throughout and managed just six points on 1-of-7 shooting.
“When (Richmond) got good looks, he missed them, but I thought Palmore did a good job on him,” Lebo said.
Two acrobatic dunks by Ross and back-to-back 3-pointers by freshman guard Jordan Baker highlighted a fast start by Old Dominion, which jumped out to a seven-point lead.
East Carolina used 3-pointers from Richmond and Roberts-Campbell and a free throw by forward Brandan Stith to pull even at 21, but Mosley answered with a 3-pointer as the Monarchs regained the edge.
Old Dominion went on to score the final seven points of the half, the last two on a floater by Batten as time expired, to take a 28-21 lead into the break.
Mosley’s eight first-half points led the Monarchs, who shot 48 percent from the field before intermission.
East Carolina’s White led all scorers with nine first-half points, but the Pirates shot just 33 percent from the floor over the first 20 minutes.
NOTES: The game pitted Brandan Stith, a freshman reserve forward for East Carolina, against his father Bryant, the former University of Virginia standout and 10-year NBA veteran now in his first year as an assistant at Old Dominion. … Old Dominion owns six consecutive wins in the series, including an 81-70 decision at East Carolina on Jan. 11. The Pirates’ last win over the Monarchs came in 2002. … Thursday’s contest was the final regular-season game in Conference USA for East Carolina, which will become a member of the American Athletic Conference on July 1.
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