Loughton leads Monarchs with 28 points

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Alex Loughton already has the Colonial Athletic Association's player of the year award. With one more chance to show why, he carried Old Dominion to the NCAA Tournament.

The 6-foot-9 forward from Australia scored six of his 28 points in overtime Monday night and the top-seeded Monarchs followed his lead, beating Virginia Commonwealth 73-66 for the conference tournament championship.

"I thought tonight was my night and I was going to sort of outsmart and out-tough the opposition," Loughton said after making 12-of-19 shots and grabbing 11 rebounds. "I really thought I found my niche tonight."

The Monarchs (28-5), who might have been able to lose and still get in the Field of 65, didn't want to leave it up to the selection committee.

"We wanted to take care of our business ourselves," said guard Drew Williamson, who played 91 minutes in the tournament without a turnover.

They almost didn't get the chance, until Loughton scored on a drive with 52 seconds left in regulation, drew a blocking call and finished the three-point play to tie it at 55. It stayed there until overtime.

Once in the extra session, Loughton scored inside, hit from about 17 feet and made two free throws, giving the Monarchs a 61-57 lead.

From there, they sealed it at the line, making 12 straight.

The Rams (19-12) cut a 69-63 deficit in half on B.A. Walker's 3-pointer with 13.9 seconds left, but Williamson hit a pair of free throws with 12 seconds to play and the Monarchs were finally tournament bound.

It is the first CAA title for Old Dominion since 1997, when VCU coach Jeff Capel's father was coaching the Monarchs, and deprived the Rams of their second consecutive championship under the younger Capel.

"I just can't say enough about how strong of a will our kids had to hang in there when everything was going right for the other team and give ourselves a chance in regulation," Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor said.

Kiah Thomas scored 14 and Isaiah Hunter 13 for Old Dominion.

Jesse Pellot-Rosa led the Rams with 15 points, Walker had 14 and Nick
George and Michael Doles each had 11, though both shot poorly. George was 4-for-11 and Doles was 4-for-12, leaving him 6-for-23 in the last two rounds.

"It was hard to get open looks, and when we did get them, we didn't knock them down," said Doles, who came in averaging 15 points.

The Rams, seeded second in the tournament, joined semifinals losers North Carolina-Wilmington and Hofstra in hoping for bids to the NIT.

"Hopefully we have at least one more game left," Capel said.

Both teams had a chance to win in regulation.

With the score tied at 55, the Rams worked the ball around until George lost the handle around the foul line with 28 seconds left. The Monarchs ran the clock down before Hunter drove and missed, the rebound getting batted around and out of bounds and the game going to overtime.

Then Loughton took over to get the Monarchs on their way.

"We had no answer for Loughton," Capel said. "He's a real, real good player -- borderline great, and I don't throw that word around much."

The Rams trailed by 11 several times early in the second half, but Pellot-Rosa's 12-footer from the baseline sparked a 14-2 run that gave them a 40-39 lead, their first since very early, with 11:51 left.

"We finally started making some shots for a stretch," Capel said.

Walker hit two 3-pointers in the run, and Doles hit a leaning 18-footer for just his fourth field goal in his last 20 tries.

Losing the lead seemed to wake the Monarchs, who scored six of the next eight points, and the lead changed hands eight more times, the last when Pellot-Rosa made a 3-pointer for the Rams with 2:28 to play.

That created a 55-52 lead, but Loughton broke Old Dominion's 4-minute scoreless streak by getting fouled on a basket and making the free throw.

The shot was especially big for Loughton, who missed the front end of a one-and-one with three minutes left, and for the Monarchs.

The Monarchs led most of the first half thanks to a 25-9 run that started with them trailing 7-1 and ended with five minutes left in the half. Loughton scored eight in the spurt and Hunter and Thomas had five each. Both hit a 3-pointer during the 12-minute run.