Strange season cut short, Corrigan, ODU look to future

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Old Dominion wasn't going to win the Colonial Athletic Association basketball tournament. The Monarchs weren't going to salvage the strangest, and one of the worst, seasons in program history with a magical three-day run in Richmond.

Jim Corrigan isn't trying to convince folks otherwise, but ODU's interim head coach certainly believes his last-place squad would have challenged any opponent(s) in the event, which opened Saturday and concludes Monday.

"It's really weird to not be doing something right now," Corrigan said. "It's been never since there wasn't a conference tournament (for us), and it's been a long, long time since there wasn't any kind of postseason play beyond that.

"To a man, players and coaches would have loved to have kept going given the way we were playing."

Corrigan guided the Monarchs to a 3-5 record during the season's final month. Three of the defeats were by two, four and five points, the latter in overtime to regular-season champion Northeastern. In a rematch last Saturday in Boston, the Monarchs defeated the Huskies.

So yes, ODU was playing inspired ball, especially for a bottom feeder. But CAA bylaws rendered the Monarchs ineligible for the league tournament because of their impending move to Conference USA, a harsh and vindictive penalty, but one the school knew was possible when it chose to exit.

So Corrigan, a 19-year veteran of ODU's staff, is left to reflect on a 5-25 record that leaves the Monarchs out of a postseason tournament for the first time since 2004, Blaine Taylor's third year as head coach.

ODU fired Taylor on Feb. 5, less than 24 hours after a home setback to George Mason dropped the Monarchs to 2-20. His departure had more to do with personal behavior than his team's 10-game losing streak, leaving Corrigan, other staff members and the players shaken.

Athletic director Wood Selig immediately named Corrigan the interim, and a day later Selig and a group of ODU donors accompanied the team on its trip to Drexel, a prearranged junket suddenly turned somber.

But at dinner the night before the game in Philadelphia, Selig began to sense a positive vibe. Forward Nick Wright, a fifth-year senior from Suffolk, knocked spoon against glass, stood and told the fans how much the players appreciated and needed their support, never more than now.

The next evening, the Monarchs defeated Drexel, their first victory since Dec. 22 against Virginia.

"It was one of those moments where you think, 'This is why I do this job,'" Selig said.

"At first, we kind of talked about, let's control what we can control," Corrigan said. "And you can't always control what happens to you. You're driving down the street, you're minding your own business, you're paying attention and someone just comes and broadsides you.

"So sometimes things happen to you that aren't great. But what you can control is how you react to it, how you deal with it, how you carry yourself when those things do happen. I thought they did a pretty amazing job of that."

Yet as the games dwindled, Corrigan wondered. Might a we-have-nothing-to-play-for malaise strike the locker room?

He worried particularly about the finale at Northeastern. ODU had played Thursday at home, losing to Drexel on senior night, and the game at Northeastern tipped at noon Saturday.

With neither the time nor energy for a full practice, the Monarchs jetted to Boston on Friday. There, with university president John Broderick in attendance — Broderick is a Northeastern graduate — ODU played its best game, defeating the Huskies 81-74 behind the double-figure scoring of Richard Ross, DeShawn Painter, Keenan Palmore, Donte Hill and Dimitri Batten.

"For us to come out and play the way we did against Northeastern was really, really a great feeling, and very rewarding," Corrigan said. "I think it speaks volumes about the kids and the kind of people they are."

Corrigan called the last month "very much a group effort. I think to a man they just responded the way you'd want kids to respond."

Now Corrigan, assistant Rob Wilkes and John Richardson, and the players wait and watch. They watch conference tournaments, including the CAA, and wait for Selig to name a new head coach.

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