The Virginia Cavaliers outscored Old Dominion by 15-8 to begin the second half and survived a late rally to defeat the Monarchs, 68-61, tonight in the first round of the Richmond Times-Dispatch Invitational at Richmond Coliseum.
The Cavaliers will play Richmond, a 67-65 overtime winner over Virginia Commonwealth, for the championship Saturday at 9 p.m.
Virginia's Tom Sheehey led all scorers against ODU with 20 points. He was helped by Mel Kennedy (15 points), Andrew Kennedy (11) and Olden Polynice (10).
Old Dominion, which shot only 44 percent in the second half, was led by Frank Smith's 14 points. Virginia held center Kenny Gattison to 10 points; he had been averaging 23.6.
The Cavaliers, ending a two-game losing streak to improve their record to 5-2, led by 16 points in the second half. Virginia Coach Terry Holland, back after missing the last game against Virginia Tech with abdominal pains, saw his team weaken but persevere and regroup.
"I felt that we played hard," said Holland. "It was obvious we didn't play pretty basketball.
"I think it is indicative of this team, though. I do think we will continue to get better . . . One of the crucial things is being able to win games like this, so it is a very big win from that standpoint."
The Cavaliers opened a 35-28 halftime lead to 43-32 on Darrick Simms' 15-footer, and Old Dominion called time with 14:52 to play. The timeout did not help, as the Monarchs missed five of their next six shots and found themselves down by 48-34 at 10:17.
Old Dominion began to hit shots from the outside, however, with Virginia sitting back in a 2-3 zone. Keith Thomas made three straight, and ODU was within 50-40.
But Virginia took a 58-42 lead on Sheehey's six straight points, the last on a rebound of Andrew Kennedy's miss. The Cavaliers began to play sloppily, however, and the Monarchs made a 10-0 run.
Old Dominion came within six points again, 63-57, with 1:04 remaining, but Sheehey scored on a layup against the press with 30 seconds to play, and Tom Calloway made a free throw near the end.
At the start, Virginia had gone ahead, 12-4, when guard Calloway made a short jump hook, only to see the Monarchs score eight straight points, four by Gattison.
But Gattison mostly was checked, and Holland said: "We concentrated a great deal on him. At the half when Frank Smith had 10 points, we were a little concerned that we had gambled wrongly. But we said, heck, we'd rather have him make shots from the outside than Kenny Gattison hurting us inside."
It was tight again until Andrew Kennedy extended the Cavaliers' lead, first on a three-point play to make it 27-22, and then on six points for a 33-24 margin.
In the first game, John Newman scored 30 points, including five of his team's seven in overtime, to lead undefeated Richmond over city rival VCU.
Richmond (7-0), which was behind at halftime, 35-28, and by eight points in the second half, rallied to defeat the Rams (1-5) for the second time this season.