NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Mired in a horrific shooting slump, Old Dominion’s junior guard Aaron Bacote said he needed just one early shot to fall against No. 14 Virginia Commonwealth to boost his confidence.
Bacote made that first one, and then all seven of the rest of his shots as well, including four 3-pointers. His onslaught produced a career-high 31 points as the Monarchs upset VCU 73-67 on Saturday.
“It’s no secret, everybody knows I wasn’t playing well,” said Bacote, who in the last four games was 1 for 16 from the floor. “My coaches didn’t give up on me, my teammates definitely didn’t give up on me. They know the type of player I can be.
“I just wanted one to drop. The second one fell, and I just went off from there.”
Bacote came into the game averaging just four points and shooting 16 percent, with only 20 points on the season. But by adding 11 of 13 free throws, Bacote topped his previous career high of 28 done twice last season.
The Rams (4-2) were led by Treveon Graham’s 34 points and never led after the opening few minutes.
ODU (5-1) forged a 23-8 lead with 9:17 left in the first half when sophomore guard Ambrose Mosley sank consecutive 3-pointers.
From there, VCU got no closer than 11 points until about three minutes remained in the game, when the Rams launched a frantic finish and closed to within five behind Graham’s hot shooting from long range.
Graham made 10 of 19 shots, including 5 of 10 3 pointers.
The loss was VCU’s second in three games. Villanova routed VCU 77-53 last Monday.
“I know (Bacote) is a really good player, he’s played well against us in the past,” said VCU coach Shaka Smart. “He got off to a slow start this year . . . but it’s not like the team was losing. You could tell he’s had a good attitude and hasn’t dropped his head. He was ready to go today.”
VCU never effectively employed its “Havoc” full-court pressure defense. The Rams entered the day forcing opponents into 18 turnovers per game and averaging 10 steals. But ODU committed just 12 turnovers and VCU collected only five steals, three by senior guard Briante Weber, the NCAA’s active leader in steals.
“We’ve been waiting for that,” ODU coach Jeff Jones said of Bacote’s performance. “I can’t say I was expecting this, but it was certainly a welcome development. It’s amazing what confidence can do for you. That’s what it is.”
ODU led by as many as 18 in the second half, but Melvin Johnson had a chance to cut VCU’s deficit to nine with nine minutes to play. But he misfired on his 3-point attempt. That was part of VCU’s 8-for-25 shooting from the arc.
A 3-pointer by Graham with 3:15 left finally brought the Rams to within single digits, 57-48. But Bacote answered with a slashing layup through VCU’s press for a 59-48 lead.
Graham drilled another 3-pointer with 1:34 to play to draw the Rams to within 59-53. But again Bacote responded with a leaner for a 61-53 cushion.
ODU’s offense started on fire and never waned. Led by Bacote’s eight points, including two 3-pointers, the Monarchs raced to a 12-6 advantage in the opening six minutes.
They opened a 15-point lead behind Mosley’s hot shooting; his nine points were all in the first half. But the Rams crept to within 11 25-14 with 3:41left in the opening period.
However, Bacote answered with his third 3-pointer to spark ODU’s closing run, capped by a steal and layup by Keenan Palmore, for a 32-18 halftime edge. That spurt finished a half in which the Monarchs shot 52 percent (13 for 25) from the floor, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range.
At the same time, VCU shot 34.8 percent (8 for 23) from the floor while hitting just two of nine 3-point attempts.
VCU: Saturday was the 90th meeting between the schools. VCU had won the last four in the series and leads overall 47-43. … Mo Alie-Cox had 13 rebounds for VCU.
Old Dominion: The Monarchs defeated their first top-20 opponent since they beat No. 8 Georgetown in the 2009-10 season. … ODU blocked six of the Rams’ shots, four by senior forward Richard Ross.
VCU visits Illinois State on Tuesday
ODU plays at George Mason on Wednesday.
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