FRISCO, Tx. (ODU Sports-Harry Minium) – The Old Dominion women’s basketball team is now truly a Cinderella.
Playing their third game in three days, the gritty and determined Monarchs upset Charlotte, 90-89, in double overtime Thursday afternoon in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.
ODU rode on the shoulders of Amari Young, who scored a career-high 31 points and had 10 rebounds. But it was Ajah Wayne who put ODU over the top.
Wayne scored ODU’s last seven points, including the winning point when she made one of two free throws with .6 seconds left.
Charlotte’s Octavia Jett-Wilson had tied the score, 89-89, with a twisting layup with just six seconds left. Wayne then took the inbounds pass, quickly drove toward the basket and was fouled.
After making the first three throw, Wayne intentionally missed the second but mistakenly missed the entire rim. That gave Charlotte the chance to inbound the ball on their end of the court.
In the end, it did not hurt ODU as Jett-Wilson missed a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
Wayne, who scored 26 points for ODU in Wednesday’s upset victory over North Texas, had 23 points against Charlotte. Victoria Morris added 17.
ODU coach DeLisha Milton-Jones shed some tears and hugged her players as they joyously celebrated.
“What do you say after a victory like that?” she said. “It was a hard-fought battle between two juggernauts that did not want to die. Everyone had a ‘we’re not going to die mentality.’ “
The Monarchs won, Young said, because of their toughness.
“I just think it shows just how tenacious our team is, how if we take a punch, we don’t back down,” she said.
ODU advances to face the biggest challenge of all – Rice University (17-3) – in Friday’s semifinals at 6:30 p.m. The game will be televised by Stadium, which is available on cable television and via digital streaming.
Rice, which may be headed to the NCAA tournament regardless of how the Owls finish in the C-USA tournament, is led by 6-foot-9 center Nancy Mulkey. She scored a total of 46 points when the Owls defeated ODU twice earlier this season in Norfolk, 77-66 and 67-59.
“I think Coach D will come up with a good plan” to defend Mulkey, Young said. “We didn’t get the win when we played Rice, but we played tit for tat with them.
“I don’t want anyone to count us out.”
ODU (13-10) has now won five in a row and seven of its last eight games. The Monarchs must win two more to claim the C-USA championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Thursday’s victory avenges two overtime losses to Charlotte earlier this season, including a 102-95 double overtime loss in which the depth-shy Monarchs played the last nine minutes with just four players.
It was a bit of a miracle that ODU managed to eke out the win. The Monarchs have used six players for all but a handful of minutes and played the final six minutes of regulation and both overtimes without starter Mariah Adams, who rolled her ankle and did not return.
Adams, who led ODU with 20 points in Tuesday’s overtime victory over Western Kentucky, had 12 against Charlotte. Her availability for Friday is unknown.
ODU entered overtime with both Maggie Robinson and Wayne saddled with four fouls. That necessitated ODU to play softer than usual on defense and gave the 49ers some easy shots.
Conversely, ODU began isolating Young, allowing her to post up and score with relative ease against Charlotte’s post players, who were also in foul trouble.
Young had 16 points in the first three quarters but was shut out in the fourth. That prompted a bit of a pep talk from Milton-Jones, who told the 5-foot-11 junior from North Augusta, South Carolina to quit allowing Charlotte to push her out of the lane.
Young then scored 15 points in overtime, including nine in the first OT period.
“She was finally able to get her footing after several conversations,” Milton-Jones said, laughing.
“I told her, ‘just put the ball in the basket and don’t allow your athleticism to be used against you.’
“And she did that. She was a force. I have to commend her and I’m so proud of her.”
The game was nip and tuck from the middle of the second quarter on and there were 22 lead changes and 12 ties.
Either team could have won at the end of the game and both overtimes.
Wayne made a layup, was fouled and then made the foul shot to tie the score at 66-66 with 28 seconds left in regulation. Charlotte’s Jada McMillian and Dara Pearson then both missed shots in the final seconds.
Jett-Wilson had a three-point play with 25 seconds left in the first overtime to knot the score at 77-77.
ODU then played for the last shot with a set play to Morris, whose attempted layup was blocked out of bounds by Pearson.
Young then scored three consecutive baskets in the first 1:27 of the second overtime, and Wayne scored the final seven to lead the Monarchs to the victory.
Milton-Jones said she is amazed by her team’s resiliency.
“This team is just built different,” she said. “I’m not going to allow them to quit. Anytime I see a little shimmer within them that might be some doubt, I always reel them back in quickly.
“I let them know this is still obtainable, that this is a goal we set before we came here, so let’s go achieve it.”