NORFOLK — Old Dominion's final non-conference game of the season provided a 40-minute snapshot of the team's traits: youth and inexperience; energy; defensive intensity; rebounding deficiencies; inconsistency; and promise.
The Lady Monarchs erased a 10-point deficit, then saw their own 10-point lead evaporate in the final minutes as they fell to Pittsburgh 55-54 Wednesday at the Constant Center.
"Definitely a heartbreaker for us," ODU coach Karen Barefoot said, "but great things came out of it, too."
ODU (9-3) was off to its best start since 1998-99, but had not played a back-and-forth affair decided late. A roster with nine freshmen and sophomores, four of whom were on the floor in the critical final minutes, succumbed to a Pittsburgh team that weathered the Lady Monarchs' second-half punch.
"I felt that we really stayed focused when we got down 10 with nine minutes to go," said Pitt coach Agnus Berenato, whose team was picked to finish 13th in the always-stacked Big East Conference this season.
Exceptionally young as well, Pitt (9-4) displayed more poise and efficiency in the final minutes. The Panthers made their final 10 free throws — eight straight from sophomore Brianna Kiesel (19 points).
Asia Logan (21 points) banked in a 3-pointer (she didn't call "glass") that gave the Panthers the lead for good at 49-47. Pitt also came up with three offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession, which eventually resulted in two Logan free throws and a four-point lead.
The game wasn't decided until ODU's Shae Kelly completed an unwanted three-point play with 1.1 seconds remaining. The sophomore wing (17 points, eight rebounds, seven steals) was fouled on a follow shot that cut the Lady Monarchs' deficit to 55-53.
She attempted to miss the free throw, hoping for an offensive rebound and stickback, but her shot rattled around the rim and in. Pitt easily inbounded the ball to secure the victory.
After its lowest-scoring half of the season (18 points), ODU's full-court pressure fueled a comeback. The Lady Monarchs outscored Pitt 16-1 in a 6 1/2-minute span, forcing seven of the Panthers' 20 turnovers.
"Coach really talked to us in the locker room about really focusing on our press and our pressure," ODU senior Mairi Buchan said, "because it was a little bit lackluster in the first half, not characteristic of who we are and what we do. So that was a big focus. I think that's what kind of helped give us energy back."
Kelly's layup off of a Galaisha Goodhope assist put the Lady Monarchs up 43-33 with 7:50 remaining. Pitt responded by moving Kiesel to point guard in place of freshman Brittany Gordon, and she and Logan settled the offense as the Panthers came back.
"To me, it came down to second- and third-chance points on the defensive end," Barefoot said. "And we missed some crucial free throws. That's the difference."
Kiesel's two free throws with 35.6 seconds left gave the Panthers a 53-47 lead, but Goodhope scored, and Kelly's steal and score cut the lead to 53-51. Those two combined for ODU's final 15 points. Two more Kiesel free throws a couple of seconds later provided the final margin.
The Lady Monarchs begin CAA play Sunday at Georgia State.
"I just like the fact that I have a team that never gives up, no matter what," Barefoot said. "So as a coach, you can walk away, you know that this team is going to give everything they have, and some, every night. I'm very encouraged by that."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times