(Courtesy Harry Minium/ODU Sports)

NORFOLK, Va. – Maybe it was exhaustion from final exams, or perhaps it was the fact that Old Dominion was playing the second of three women’s basketball games in just six days. Regardless, the Monarchs all but sleep-walked through much of a first half in which VCU was the better team.
But jolted by some stern words from head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones at the half, the Monarchs played some of their best basketball of the season. ODU outscored VCU, 26-4, in the third quarter and went on to rout the Rams, 66-41, Thursday night at Chartway Arena.
It was the fifth victory in a row for ODU (7-3), which hosts Norfolk State Sunday at 2 p.m. in perhaps its biggest home game of the season. 
Norfolk State is 9-1 and ranked 72nd in the NCAA women’s basketball NET rankings. The Spartans’ only loss was a six-point defeat at Penn State. Norfolk State is ranked ahead of nearly a dozen ACC and SEC teams and every school in the Sun Belt, including No. 142 ODU.
Beating VCU soundly was no small task. Although the Rams are 3-7, they beat Wisconsin two weeks ago. It was the 80th game between VCU and ODU, a series the Monarchs lead, 61-19. 
The Rams thrashed ODU, 71-48, last season in Richmond in a game in which the Monarchs were stone cold. This time, it was VCU’s turn to be on the wrong side of a rout.
“Once we were able to regroup, encourage one another, and light a fire under a few of us, we were able to come out in the third quarter and play the best basketball that we have seen all year long,” Milton-Jones said.
“That’s very encouraging for us to see that level of play for that duration against that level of a team.”
Senior Amari Young, who had double-doubles in ODU’s last two games, led the Monarchs with a season-high 17 points and added eight rebounds and five steals.
Kaye Clark, who kept the game close in the first half with her long-range shooting, had 12 points. Former Princess Anne High School teammates Makayla Dickens (11 points) and Brianna Jackson (eight points off the bench) also played well.
ODU trailed 23-17 and 25-18 early on but then rallied to cut the VCU lead to two at the half.
Dickens, who had five points in the final minutes of the second period to narrow the margin to two, swished a three-point shot 11 seconds into the third quarter and another a minute later to give ODU a 31-27 lead.
Young followed with a steal and a fast-break layup and Jada Duckett a tip-in to build the lead to eight.
VCU trimmed the lead to four on baskets by Samantha Robinson and Timaya Lewis-Eutsey, but then the Monarchs blew the game open, outscoring the Rams, 16-0, a streak that Jackson finished with a fast-break layup with 17 seconds left in the third quarter.
A small but vocal crowd of 2,516 gave the Monarchs a sustained standing ovation as both teams headed to the bench.
Young said that Milton-Jones’ pep talk helped motivate her in the second half, in which she scored 10 points.
“She pulled me aside and said I looked flat-footed, and I was,” Young said. “That changed my mindset.”

Milton-Jones said Jackson played her best game of the season, and that ODU needs the 6-foot-3 senior center to play well inside.
“Brianna had a great game,” Milton-Jones said. “She was 4 for 8 from the field and I feel like she anchored us in the paint.”
Milton-Jones said playing three games in six days is a good thing when you’re on a winning streak.
“We have a great rhythm going right now, and when you do, players tend to love the routine of playing,” she said. 
She added that beating Norfolk State will be a challenge. 
“Their coaches did a great job of recruiting. They look like night and day compared to last year,” she said.
“But we’re up for the challenge. I think we have a great team, too. It’s going to be a great battle.
“We’re looking to see who’s going to claim the turf in the 757.”
Clark, a senior guard who played 36 minutes against VCU, said “We’re here to answer the call. Whatever Norfolk State throws at us, we’ll be ready for it.”
All tickets for Norfolk State are discounted and sell at the gate for $9 apiece.
ODU has declared the game “Gospel Day.” ODU has reached out to local churches to encourage fans to attend the game in their Sunday best.