NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Looking to get out of a slide that had seen it lose three of its past four games, the Old Dominion men’s basketball team grinded out a 66-64 win at South Alabama Thursday.

Sophomore Newport News native Chaunce Jenkins led ODU with 16 points, and Mekhi Long had a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds. South Alabama had a chance for the win, but a 35-footer missed off the rim at the buzzer.

Imo Essien also played for the first time since he collapsed on the court in a Jan. 8 game at Georgia Southern. He went 2-for-3 from the field, scoring four points and adding four rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Despite being in a three-way tie for ninth after Thursday’s win, there are still plenty of games left in the conference schedule to make a run up the standings as it looks to build toward a postseason berth.

The Monarchs (12-9, 4-5 Sun Belt) are just three games back of first place Southern Miss (18-4, 7-2 Sun Belt) and Louisiana (17-4, 7-2 Sun Belt). And there’s a logjam among the top 10 conference teams being spread out by just three games.

The Monarchs lost by one to Coastal Carolina, fell on the road at Marshall and then suffered what coach Jeff Jones said was their worst lost of the season against Appalachian State. They get a rematch at Coastal Carolina Saturday.

“You can’t just show up ready to play (with) excited energy, scrappiness sometimes,” Jones said. “That has to be part of your DNA.”

Sophomore guard Imo Essien is still on the mend, but is back at practice.

“All the tests that we were told he would need have been completed,” Jones said. “The first thing, obviously, is just his health. If there’s nothing there, then we can get him back as soon as possible, whenever the doctors say.”

Old Dominion is also without Ben Stanley, who injured his hand at Marshall.

Jenkins, an explosive scorer for the Monarchs, has taken over at point guard, and he’s learning on the job.

“We’re trying to coach him up and trying to familiarize him with things that he hasn’t experienced as a point guard,” Jones said.

As for the rest of the way, Jones said the Monarchs are still within striking distance in the Sun Belt, and did its part against bottom-feeder South Alabama.

“The league is all bottled-up,” Jones said. “You’ve got to win one, and if you can win one, you do everything you can to find a way to win the second one.”