Press release courtesy of Harry Minium, ODU Athletics

NORFOLK, Va. – The Old Dominion women’s basketball team staged two spirited rallies, erasing a 16-point James Madison lead in the third quarter and then closing an eight-point margin two in the final minutes.

But after expending so much energy, the Monarchs didn’t have quite enough to finish and fell to JMU, 70-64, Sunday afternoon in the Sun Belt Conference semifinals.

ODU (22-12) was oh-so-close to coming all the way back.

With 13 seconds left, guard Makayla Dickens appeared to swish a three-point shot that would have trimmed the lead to one. But she was called for stepping out of bounds – replays showed she indeed stepped out by an inch or so – and the Dukes put the game away from the free-throw line.

ODU finished the season strong, winning nine of its last 11 games, including tournament victories over Georgia State and Troy, coming into the semifinals. The Monarchs head home to Norfolk on Monday bitterly disappointed and await a possible WNIT bid.

The Monarchs had been aiming for their first conference championship game appearance since the 2016 Conference USA final, in which ODU fell to Middle Tennessee, and first NCAA bid since 2008.

“This loss was frustrating because we had our sights set on winning and calling ourselves champions,” head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones said. “We wanted to do it in stellar fashion for all of our seniors.

“This is a game that we obviously could have won. If Makayla doesn’t step out of bounds, it’s a one-point game and we might be in the championship game.”

Statistically the game was a virtual draw, except where it counted most – shooting percentage. JMU (25 of 52 shots, 48.1 percent) just made more shots than the Monarchs (22 of 62 shots, 35 percent).

Jatyja Jones, the senior transfer from Memphis, led ODU with 12 points. Former Princess Anne High School teammates Brianna Jackson and Dickens had 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Amari Young, ODU’s best player, was in foul trouble much of the first half. She had eight points in just 12 minutes.

A fifth-year senior, Young was denied a championship three years ago when the 24-6 Monarchs were unable to play after the Conference USA Tournament was canceled because of the pandemic. Young elected to return to ODU to try to win that elusive title by using a fifth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic.

Then, in December, she lost her 47-year-old father to a heart attack.

“In particular, we wanted to win for Amari Young,” Milton-Jones said. “Going through everything she’s had to go through with her family and losing her father, we really wanted a championship for her.

“Her being able to showcase the character she has, to be able to come in here and still nurture and be unselfish and give in a moment when she frankly needed more people to give to her, was just fantastic.”

It was also the last chance for Dickens and Jones, both graduate transfers, to win a title.

“I thought if we lost that I’d be upset or crying or be mad, but I can take a loss when I know we’ve given it our all,” Young said. “I know we left it all on the floor.

“So, I’m upset that we lost but proud of my team.”

Jones said she also expected to cry but agreed the team played as hard, although not as well, as it could have.

“Honestly, I was just out there to give it my all,” she said. “I don’t want to go home.

“Hey, it’s a tough loss. But I know we could have beaten them.”

JMU (25-7) took an eight-point lead on back-to-back baskets from Jamia Hazell with 3:38 left in the game. The Monarchs then slowly cut into the margin.

Jordan McLaughlin made a three-pointer with 2:40 left to trim it to five, 64-59. Two minutes later, Brenda Fontana made a fallaway three-point shot to trim the lead to four, 66-62.

Kaye Clark, ODU’s best defensive player, then stole the JMU inbounds pass and ODU quickly called a timeout.

Kalen Nelson had a three-point shot rim out, but Dickens rebounded and was fouled while shooting. She made two free throws and with 27.1 seconds left, ODU trailed, 66-64.

The Monarchs immediately fouled Kiki Jefferson, the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year who led the Dukes with 22 points. She made two free throws with 23 seconds left.

Dickens then swished the apparent three-point shot that was not to be.

 Caroline Germond iced the victory for JMU with two free throws with 10 seconds to go.

ODU appeared to be in deep trouble early in the third quarter, trailing by 16 points, 38-22, after Jefferson made a three-pointer.

ODU then began a methodical comeback in which the Monarchs stepped up their defensive pressure, and after shooting poorly in the first half, finally began to make shots.

Dickens made a three-pointer, the first of the game for the Monarchs, to cut the lead to eight, 42-34, with 3:39 left.

Kseniia Kozlova, the senior from Russia who had 20 points, made a layup and a free throw to build the JMU lead to nine with 2:55 left.

But then the Monarchs caught fire. Dickens made a layup, Nelson back-to-back jump shots and then Dickens a three-pointer to tie the score at 45 with 53 seconds left in the third quarter. 

Milton-Jones said the way the Monarchs rallied showed the character of her team.

“I told each and every one of them that I love them dearly and I appreciate them immensely for everything that they have done during the good days and the bad days and the tough days,” Milton-Jones said.

“Everyone stayed resilient. Everyone stayed together and they kept believing in the vision and kept trusting each other. And as a coach, I wanted them to know how much I appreciated each and every one of them.”