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11/20/2006 01:24:00 AM
The Hidden Upset
The calm before the storm: McDonough at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Drew Williamson (right) high-fives teammate Brian Henderson as Old Dominion celebrated its upset of Georgetown on Sunday night.
WASHINGTON -- It was Sunday afternoon on the Georgetown campus when Brandon Johnson and his Old Dominion teammates got their first look inside the barn-like relic that is 2,500-seat McDonough Arena. Before their pre-game shootaround began, Johnson remembers asking no one in particular, "Wait, this is where the Hoyas play their home games?"
To the Monarchs, a Colonial Athletic Association team that calls a 8,424-seat building home, this seemed like a strange setting for the No. 8 team in the nation -- a Big East powerhouse, no less -- to be playing host. So why were they there? The Hoyas moved out of the 54-year-old McDonough in 1980-81, first to play in Landover, Md., and now at the Verizon Center downtown, but they've made a point to play on campus at least once each season in the John Thompson III era. Seeing that this was undoubtedly the biggest game on ODU's schedule, though ... coach Blaine Taylor offered Johnson & Co. an answer that was both factual and motivational:
"Coach informed us that Georgetown only scheduled two games in this place -- rather than the Verizon Center -- all year: us and Winston-Salem State," Johnson said. "He said they usually just use this as a practice gym. What they didn't know was, we all love practice!"
Johnson uttered those words amid a cramped-but-jubilant Monarchs locker room in the bowels of McDonough, where minutes earlier a few reporters (myself included) had walked into the crossfire of a celebratory water-bottle fight. ODU had reason to party: the 75-62 upset it had just pulled off over the Hoyas stands, after Oral Roberts' win over No. 3 Kansas on Nov. 15, as the second-biggest stunner of this young season. Monarchs senior forward Arnaud Dahi (15 points, six rebounds) said the sold-out crowd of mostly rabid Georgetown students had fostered an "us-against-the-world atmosphere" in the intimate gym, where the Hoyas hadn't lost since 1982.
This game should go down as The Hidden Upset. It featured all the emotion of an NCAA tournament Cinderella win, but was only witnessed by a minscule crowd -- and unlike Oral Roberts' feat, it wasn't on TV. (Admittedly, I made the trip because the McDonough scene would be a rare treat; I didn't expect the Monarchs, who were picked to finish fourth in the CAA, to go all George Mason on Georgetown.) Said Taylor, "You are a little envious [of the other upsets]. We're all human, we sit home and watch TV and see the highlights. We just beat a ranked team with a tremendous reputation -- and since people won't be able to see it, this is going to leave a lot of them scratching their heads and saying, 'I wonder how that happened?'"
As a member of the lucky 2,500, it's my duty to take you beyond what's already in the AP recap. Prior to the game, the last message Taylor wrote on the whiteboard was "FINISH THE JOB." Just a week earlier, the Monarchs (4-1) blew a chance to knock off Clemson in the final of the Cox Communications Classic in Norfolk, Va., losing 74-70, and Taylor didn't want a similar late-game fade to occur in D.C. What happened instead was an improbable surge: After trailing by four at half, ODU used a 21-3 run to outscore the Hoyas 48-31 in the second.
Point guard Drew Williamson said Taylor had also stressed that, "If we can outrebound them, we'll be able to win." That seemed like an impossible task against the Hoyas' NBA-caliber front line of Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, but the Monarchs used a heroic team-rebounding effort -- nine players with between two and six boards -- to win that battle 35-28. ODU was especially opportunistic on the offensive end, grabbing 15 offensive boards to Georgetown's seven.
Green, the Hoyas' star forward, had a glaringly poor stat line of just two points, three rebounds and three turnovers before fouling out in 25 minutes. "When he's off, we more than likely will be off," said Thompson. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out."
The thing that did baffle Georgetown (2-1), though, was the 1-3-1 matchup zone the Monarchs switched to in the second half. They opened the game in man-to-man, Taylor's bread-and-butter, before switching to a 2-3 that kept them within striking distace of the Hoyas. The second zone was ODU's ambush move, as Taylor said he hadn't used it all year. It dedicated a man to Hibbert (who finished with 17 points) in the lane and, in place of smaller guards, used 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Jonathan Adams at the top to stop Georgetown's high-post feeds. It only further exposed the Hoyas' inability to stroke it from long range: they shot 3-of-10 in the second half and finished 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) for the game. The Monarchs, meanwhile, lit up the gym by hitting 6-of-9 of their second-half treys.
The X-factor that pushed ODU over the top was its veteran composure. Down the stretch the Monarchs relied on a dual point-guard lineup of Williamson, a senior, and Johnson, a junior; together they finished with a combined 23 points, 11 assists and just two turnovers. While Georgetown had eight second-half giveaways, ODU had just two, and get this -- they didn't commit a single turnover for the final 15:47.
Only one Monarch lost his cool for a few moments: Lithuanian senior Valdas Vasylius was T'ed up with 16:25 remaining for talking trash to Green. ("I didn't curse, I was just saying 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' to him after I hit that 3," Vasylius explained). Despite being showered with raucous chants of "a--hole" by the Georgetown crowd for the remainder of the game, Vasylius rebounded to score 14 key second-half points and play a major role in the win.
On the heels of George Mason's storybook run to the Final Four, Sunday's upset is the latest blow struck by a CAA team against one of college basketball's elite. The small ODU section, about 40 strong, showed its conference pride by breaking into a "C-A-A" chant in the final minutes (it was met with an "N-I-T" chant by the Hoya students, who later filed out in a somber mood). But really, how could anyone have seen this coming?
The Monarchs were more primed to do something like this last year, when, led by stars Alex Loughton (13.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Isaiah Hunter (14.3 ppg), they finished 24-10 and went to the semifinals of the NIT. Without their two leading scorers, they were afterthoughts in the CAA behind Hofstra, George Mason and Drexel heading into 2006-07. "Last year we came in with the bulls-eye," said Williamson. "Now that we've lost Alex and Isaiah, we have to find the identity of this team."
And that new identity? "We're still trying to figure it out," he said. "This was our first big game together."
The drenched crowd in the locker room was more intent on figuring out what, if any, celebration would be waiting for them back in Norfolk -- a three-and-half-hour bus ride away. "I think," said Dahi, wearing a devious grin and attempting to speak for all of the Monarchs, "that we're all going to do our homework, and get ready for class tomorrow!"
At that, the rest of McDonough's party-crashers broke up laughing.
The scene in the McDonough Arena stands, a half hour before tipoff.
What makes this upset all the more surprising was that just 2 days earlier I stood in the student section at the Ted wondering why ODU was tied against Florida Atlantic in the 2nd half. I just hope this win gives us the spark we need for this year. O-D-U!
Luke, Thanks for revealing this story. The Monarchs truly played a very good TEAM oriented ballgame. We were the better TEAM last night. GU has a very good ball players but lack the team chemistry. That was very clear last night. Keep in mind mid major TEAMS deserve more press coverage and NCAA bids than the mid level major programs. Don't let the ACC, Big East and other BCS conferences feed the media Kool Aid. Don't waste your time with GW. ODU has beaten them twice in the last two meetings against them. Start providing more coverage for the CAA. George Mason will be playing Duke soon.
Luke-Valdas Vasylius got T'ed up for talking trash to Jeff Green (after he hit a 3 in his face)-not Hibbert. This year Georgetown is the hunted rather than the hunter...they are going to have up their intensity to match their opponent...something they didn't do last night (and at times last year, S. Florida). While it hurts today, it is going to help them prepare not only for Duke in 2 weeks, but also for BE play.
Luke-I am positive. I was in the third row on that side of the court screaming at the ref for the T (which shockingly actually happened.) That T was further proof that ODU came to play and that Gtown did not. Question for you-Gtown killed the dookies last year when they refused to play zone. Think Coach K's hubris will prevent them from playing zone this year? I do.
ODU was really upset about being relegated to this tiny little gym with no TV coverage. We would have brought a few thousand fans if played at the Verizon Center. I, too, have seen all of the home games for ODU, and the shooting was very poor. However, this team appears to have a better chemistry than the one led by Loughton and Hunter last year. I love the combination of WIlliamson and Johnson......makes matchup problems for every team we face,
Great win in a very hostile environment. Go ODU!!!
Here is what I don't understand. ODU played in the same conference with the Charlotte 49er's, Richmond, South Florida, GW, UAB, and other non Mid Majors schools... ODU has for years been equal to all of these programs. Why now does this team (and the CAA) have this label of Mid Major which really is a slap in the face and a huge crutch to a quality program like ODU and a very good conference like the CAA? Who came up with this label of Mid Major and how was it determined which conferences would be tagged as a Mid Major??? Had ODU followed Charlotte, GW or Richmond to the Atlantic 10, UAB to Conference USA or South Florida to the Big East instead of moving into the Colonial conference then they would not be a Mid Major today however no one even distinguished those conferences as Mid Majors back then. It is a big disadvantage as this label would suggest that schools with a Mid Major tag can not compete with non Mid Major schools and if they do then they are labeled as a Cinderella team. If anyone can clear this up for me it would be much appreciated. firstname.lastname@example.org
Eh. This is just an early bump in the road for a team trying to build chemistry after losing three seniors. ODU returned an experienced group and played well, on the same night Green had his worst performance ever.
We'll be firing on all cylinders come Big East play, and our frosh and new role players will be ready to step up. It takes time to perfect the Georgetown offense.
does the mid-major thing have anything to do with BCS stuff. The PAC-10, BIG-12, BIG-10, ACC, SEC and I think the Big East all get automatic bids in to BCS games. I would assume this is because the schools in these conferences often time have more resources (scholarships, general funds) to maintain dominating programs. This is probably why these are the major conferences. The mid-majors don't have as many resources and are usually filled with smaller schools. Therefore they are less able to maintain a solid program. Why do you think when a coach does well at a "mid-major" school, he usually is snatched up by a team from a major conference? They can pay him more and provide better facilities for better recruits. Its all about money. BCS schools make tons of money from bowl games and TV contract. Therefore they have more of an ability to maintain their program over years.
That's why teams like Gonzaga are so rare. For a team like that to perennially challenge and beat major conference teams is amazing. Most mid-majors are going to have some good years (George Mason) and some bad ones. But the likelihood of them challenging the teams like Duke, UNC, Kansas, and all the other major programs in college basketball every year is unlikely. Usually because when a coach does well, he is rewarded by being offered a larger contract and more resources at a bigger school. So the smaller teams have to keep rebuilding.
I am trying to figure out something. I got the Street and Smith's preview yesterday and the CAA is an afterthought for conference previews. They finished witht a conference RPI of 8 last year and the Big West (Nevada), Mtn West (SDSU, BYU, UTAH, and Conf USA (UAB) the big pages. I think the CAA should have replaced the Big West since they finished 8th in the RPI and had 4 teams with 24 wins in the conf. Other than the SEC, They were the only confence with at least 1 team (SEC at LSU and FLA in NCAA final 4) in the Final four of NIT and NCAA.