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It's as if they never left: ODU dominates in return

After a 2 week COVID related layoff, the Monarchs beat Texas-San Antonio 83-51

NORFOLK, Va. —  Showing few side effects from a COVID-enforced, two-week absence from the court, the Old Dominion's  basketball team rolled past University of Texas-San Antonio with surprising ease Thursday at Chartway Arena.

Led by 19 points from senior center Austin Trice and 16 points and seven assists from sophomore point guard Jaylin Hunter, the Monarchs outran the Roadrunners, 83-51.

ODU had last played on Dec. 30, when the Monarchs claimed an 82-77 victory over Florida International in Miami. Then came postponements of games on Jan. 1 at Florida Atlantic and last Saturday at Charlotte after players tested positive for COVID.

After compiling a 5-8 record in the non-conference portion of its schedule, in which the Monarchs lost their last three games, ODU has since won its first two Conference USA games, albeit 14 days apart. The Monarchs (7-8 overall, 2-0 C-USA) sit alone atop the Conference USA East Division standings.

Coach Jeff Jones held practice with only six players through much of the last two weeks and three of those six players who've practiced stepped up in a big way.

Trice made his first start of the season and scored six points in the game's first two minutes and had 15 by halftime. He made nine of 11 shots, including two thunderous dunk shots.

Hunter made six of nine shots and C.J. Keyser, the senior transfer from North Carolina Central, scored 16 points. Both played 30 minutes.

Mekhi Long was in isolation recently but scored eight points and led ODU with nine rebounds.

"The guys who hadn't had COVID, we knew we needed to be good enough to lift up the people coming back from isolation," Hunter said. "They spent a lot of time in their rooms, so they were more out of shape, and their shots probably were filling a little weird.

"Our job was to lift them back up."

UTSA (7-10, 0-4) last had a game postponed on Dec. 30, but was shorthanded Thursday because of COVID. Starters Cedrick Alley Jr and Jordan Ivy-Curry, who average a combined 24.4 points per game, did not play.

ODU made a blistering 62 percent of its shots, largely because 40 Monarch points came in the paint.

The Monarchs led by 12 at the half and quickly blew the game open in the second half. UTSA trimmed the margin to 10, 33-23, on a hook shot from Lachian Bofinger a minute into the second half, but the Monarchs outscored UTSA, 14-2, over a 6 1/2-minute stretch to put the game out of reach.

Trice built the lead to 25, 56-31, with a dunk shot with 12:23 left that brought the crowd of 4,651 to its feet.

While Jones said he did not expect the victory margin to be 32 points, he added that "we played a team that had even more issues in terms of fielding a team."

Trice started in place of Kalu Ezipke, who had not practiced in a week. A Chicago native who transferred to ODU in 2019 from Kansas State, Trice had been a force off the bench in ODU's previous four games, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per game during that stretch.

"That was far from Kalu's best game, but he really, really worked," Jones said. "You could tell early on he was sucking wind and fighting through it, but he gave us a great effort."

Starting Trice in place of Ezipke "was a no-brainer" he added.

"We really didn't know what to expect with Kalu," Jones said. "But Austin is playing the best basketball of his career and has been really, really good for us for about five games."

Next up for the Monarchs, UTEP comes to Chartway Arena on Saturday.