NORFOLK, Va. — Mekhi Long took a long pass from point guard Jaylin Hunter and made a layup just before the final buzzer sounded to lift the Old Dominion men's basketball team to a much-needed victory Friday afternoon.
Coming off of three consecutive defeats in the Myrtle Beach Invitational, the Monarchs rallied from a five-point, second-half deficit to defeat Longwood University, 62-61, at Chartway Arena.
Long, a 6-foot-7 sophomore from Bryans Road, Maryland, led ODU (3-4) with 18 points and added six rebounds and four blocked shots. C.J. Keyser scored 12 points and Hunter added five points and six assists.
The game marked the return of coach Jeff Jones to the ODU bench after a three-game absence. He had been sidelined with a case of pneumonia, assistant coach Bryant Stith said.
Although not fully recovered, Jones sat on the bench much of the game while relaying instructions to Stith.
Stith said Jones surprised the team by showing up for practice two days ago and has been coaching, albeit quietly, ever since.
"What coach Jones did is he coached through me," said Stith, who played for Jones when he coached at the University of Virginia.
"He gave me my instructions as far as what he wanted the team to do, how practice worked, what to run. Then it was my job to make sure we executed.
"Tonight coach Jones was the maestro on the bench. He was calling the plays. And what I did was relay what he said to everyone on the court and made sure they were in position to be able to execute."
ODU trailed by as many as 14 points in what was a miserable first half for the Monarchs. DeShaun Wade, a senior from Virginia Beach, made a fallaway 3-point shot with 4:11 left in the first half to give Longwood (4-3) a 28-14 advantage.
ODU then went to a zone defense that rattled Longwood and allowed the Monarchs to hold Lancers to one point the rest of the first half. ODU trimmed the lead to 29-28 at halftime on two foul shots from Long.
The second half was a back-and-forth affair with nine lead changes and six ties.
Wade made a 3-pointer with 2:56 left to give Longwood a 56-54 lead. A.J. Oliver II responded with a 3-point shot, which was answered by a 3-pointer from Isaiah Wilkins that gave the Lancers a 57-56 lead with 2:36 left.
On ODU's next two possessions, Long tipped in a missed shot and made a jumper to give ODU a 60-57 lead with 1:10 to go.
ODU led by one, 60-59, when Longwood's Justin Hill missed a shot and was fouled with nine seconds left, much to the consternation of the crowd of 4,725. Hill made both free throw to give the Lancers a 61-60 lead.
Hunter was pressed by the Lancers as he brought the ball up the court, and it briefly looked like the Monarchs would not get off a shot. But he saw Long driving toward his left to the basket and tossed a near-perfect pass that Long caught and laid off the backboard. The red lights signaling the end of the game flashed as the ball went through the net.
Long said he had no idea how much time was on the clock.
"But I knew enough to shoot it right away," he said.
"You always dream about making a game-winning shot, especially at this level."
He said Jones' presence on the bench was an inspiration.
"He's fighting pneumonia and he was still out there," Long said. "That gave us a big lift."
ODU next plays at East Carolina on Tuesday. The Monarchs lost to ECU, 73-60, a week ago in Myrtle Beach.
Stith said he doesn't know whether Jones will travel to Greenville, North Carolina for the ECU game.
"Coach Jones left it all out there on the court tonight," Stith said.
"What we want to see him do is get himself well. If he's well enough to go to Greenville, that's great.
"But if not, we can handle it. The guys understand what's at stake."