GAME NOTES: After a forgettable 2012-13 campaign, the Old Dominion Monarchs will attempt to get the Jeff Jones era off on the right foot, as they welcome the Missouri State Bears to the Constant Convocation Center for the season opener on Friday night.
Missouri State took a significant step backwards last season in Paul Lusk's second season as head coach. After finishing the 2011-12 campaign at .500 overall and tied for third place in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Bears were an afterthought a season ago, going just 11-22 with a 7-11 mark in conference play.
Old Dominion had an even tougher go of it in 2012-13, finishing as one of the nation's worst teams at just 5-25. The dreadful season came on the heels of four consecutive 20-win campaigns, and following the firing of Blaine Taylor, the Monarchs settled on Jones as their new head coach. Jones had previously led American University to NCAA Tournament berths in 2008 and 2009.
These two teams have met just once before, with ODU claiming a 73-67 victory in Springfield, Missouri in February of 2012.
The Bears will certainly miss Anthony Downing this season, who scored 13.7 points per game as a senior in 2012-13 and was named an All-MVC honorable mention selection, but the good news is that he was the team's only graduated senior. Expected to pick up the slack in the scoring department will be Marcus Marshall, who was an All-Freshman Team pick in the MVC a season ago after posting 11.5 points per game with a strong free-throw percentage (.800). Christian Kirk (8.7 ppg, .521 FG percentage) is rock-solid up front, and Gavin Thurman (6.9 ppg) also returns at forward, although he'll need to improve upon his shot selection after hitting just 34.6 percent from the field.
The Monarchs will also need to rebound from a couple of key losses, with starters DeShawn Painter (13.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Donte Hill (8.2 ppg) and Nick Wright (6.7 ppg) all moving on, but for a team that won just five games a season ago, some fresh faces with a new coach will likely be better for rebooting the program. There's still some familiarity for Jones to work with, as Keenan Palmore (8.2 ppg, 3.0 apg) and Aaron Bacote (7.8 ppg) both showed promise as freshmen, and Richard Ross (7.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.9 bpg) is a defensive-minded presence in the paint. Ambrose Mosley, a redshirt freshman, should see plenty of action in the backcourt, and Canadian import Denzell Taylor (6-foot-7, 210 pounds) will be given an opportunity to make his mark down low.
Jones hopes to bring a new culture of winning to the Monarchs' locker room after such a disastrous 2012-13 campaign, but the cupboard is still pretty bare in terms of returning talent. Missouri State should be improved this season and will get things started with a solid road win.
Game Date and Time