January 07, 2015

In less than two seasons, Jeff Jones has seen his efforts to rebuild Old Dominion rewarded with the first AP Top 25 ranking in school history.

Following their historic move into the poll, the No. 25 Monarchs try to keep the good times rolling when they play at Marshall on Thursday night.

Following a 12-season run at American that resulted in two NCAA tournament berths, Jones arrived in Old Dominion in 2013 and inherited a five-win squad. The Monarchs (12-1, 1-0) posted a .500 record in 2013-14 - their first season in Conference USA - and have climbed into the national spotlight on the strength of a nine-game winning streak highlighted by a 73-67 victory over then-No. 14 VCU on Nov. 29.

"I am excited for our program, the university and Monarch alumni and fans everywhere," Jones, trying to take his third team to the NCAA tournament after also doing so at his first coaching stop in Virginia, told the school's official website. "It's a big step for the program and a credit to the hard work of the student-athletes."

ODU's calling card is its defense. Jones' team is ninth in Division I in scoring defense at 55.1 points per game and is allowing opponents to shoot 38.6 percent. The Monarchs have outrebounded teams by 8.0 per contest.

Old Dominion extended the best start in school history with a 61-54 victory at Charlotte on Sunday. Richard Ross scored 12 points for the Monarchs, who raced to a quick 13-point lead in the first half and limited the 49ers to 18 points in the opening 20 minutes.

Trey Freeman is ODU's top offensive threat, averaging team highs of 16.4 points and 3.5 assists, but the Monarchs also have balance with four other players contributing between 7.1 and 9.5 points per game. They also value the ball, committing a conference-low 11.1 turnovers per contest.

"We have great pieces that understand how to work together," assistant John Richardson said on Jones' radio show. "You cannot have the start we have without working together."

Marshall (4-10, 0-1) is happy to be back home after a winless four-game road stretch. The Thundering Herd opened conference play with an 81-62 defeat at Western Kentucky on Sunday, shooting 33.3 percent overall and going 5 for 23 from 3-point range.

The loss capped a miserable shooting effort in those four games in which Marshall averaged 59.5 points, making 26.8 percent from beyond the arc and 32.4 percent overall. Its 38.7 percent shooting for the season is barely ahead of Middle Tennessee State for the worst mark in C-USA.

Though the Thundering Herd are second in the conference with 110 3-pointers, they are 11th among the 14 teams with a 29.9 percent accuracy rate.

Marshall's 16.1 turnovers per game is also among the highest marks in the country.

ODU won both meetings between the teams last season, including a 73-58 victory in the second round of the C-USA tournament. Marshall's 69-66 loss to then-No. 22 West Virginia on Dec. 14 was its fourth straight against a ranked team, and it has dropped six in a row to Top 25 squads at home since beating then-No. 23 Wake Forest 73-66 on Dec. 17, 1997.

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