Saturday, January 31, 2015

ODU's Jennie Simms drops 45 on FIU

Darrick Simms saw it coming, sort of.

Through the magic of online viewing, Simms quickly detected the textbook shooting form and confidence off the dribble his daughter Jennie was dealing Florida International Thursday night in Miami.

"At halftime, I turned to my wife (Martina) and said, 'I think she may get 35 tonight," Papa Simms said.

Problem was, the Lady Monarchs needed more. So when 35 wasn't enough, Jennie kept firing, and the nets kept snapping. Remember Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of hell?" Well, this was "40 minutes of heat." and when it was over ODU's new alpha-dog had blow-torched the Panthers for an eye-popping 45 points in the Lady Monarchs' 80-67 victory.

That's the second-highest total in the storied history of ODU women's basketball, trailing only Anne Donovan's 50-point performance against Norfolk State in 1980. Donovan wasn't in the house Thursday night, but ex-ODU great Ticha Penicheiro was. (Can you imagine how many Simms might have scored with an elite ball wizard like Ticha teeing her up?)

And as fate would have it, the Lady Monarch Simms edged out for the No. 2 spot, Inge Nissen, had one of the best seats in the joint - Nissen is now the head coach at FIU. So when Nissen, who once dropped 42 on Radford in 1979, clasped Simms' hand and said "great game," she was one of the few people that truly understood just how great a game it was.

Of course, we suspect she was also wondering why Simms couldn't have saved this scoring avalanche for Florida Atlantic.

Ironically, Simms, whose previous career high was 26 points, had been battling flu-like symptons for about a week and a half and said she didn't feel completely like her ol' self until Wednesday, the day before she lit up FIU. The Accokeek, Md. native was also as humble after the game and she was hot during it, saying that she wasn't keeping track of her total, got just as much satisfaction from dishing out an assist as she did from nailing a jumper and was simply providing what the team needed.

Fortunately for the Lady Monarchs - not to mention the school's record book - her teammates knew what was up and spent the game not just feeding Simms the ball, but also encouragement.

"They were like, 'Go for 30!' Simms said with a laugh. "And then, 'Go for 40!' "

During a late-game timeout, freshman forward Maia Lee upped the ante even more,

"Go for 50!" Lee exhorted.

Alas, time ran out before Simms could service Lee's request. Still, the 45 points were more than enough to link the 2014-15 Lady Monarchs with the great players and teams in the program's history. It also gave this year's team its first real needle-moving achievement, something that not just pleases the diehards but also gets casual fans on and around campus to go "Wow!"

To this point words like "solid" and "competent" and "gritty" best describe the Lady Monarchs (12-7), which are fine attributes but not the kind that typically rev up a fan base. In a way, going to ODU games this season has kind of been like visiting Cold Stone and ordering vanilla ice cream with no mix-ins. Tastes fine, but you kind of wish there was more to it.

But when, during a men's game timeout, PA announcer Jack Ankerson barked out that Simms led an ODU women's hoops victory with 45 points, the Constant Center crowd went "Oooooooh!" and a jolt of electricity shot through the place. It wasn't the first time an ODU women's victory was announced during a men's basketball game. It was the first time the news was greeted as though it was a really big deal.

Of course, Simms won't score 45 every night (right?). But the possibility that something special might happen at an ODU women's game, well, we're not sure people felt that before.

They'll feel it now.

Back at the Maryland homestead, the first thing Darrick and Martina Simms did after their daughter's epic performance was pray. Then they acted exactly the way the rest of us would if our kid had just scored more points in a victory than any other Division I player this season.

"We were running around the house, slapping five, acting like fools," Darrick Simms said. "Then we started calling relatives, but most of them already knew. You're just so proud."

They then waited for Jennie's usual call.

"Hello, parents," Jennie, the coolest customer in all this, began.

"We just started screaming," Darrick said. "And she started laughing."

What will Simms do for an encore Saturday at Florida Atlantic? If the redshirt sophomore has her way, it'll be nothing more or less than whatever's required for another victory. In other words, she's no Swaggy P. But after chatting with Darrick Simms, who played at the University of Virginia, breaks down the game like a coach and still works his daughter out, we suspect we haven't seen the last of monster scoring nights out of Jennie.

"In my opinion, she hasn't reached her ceiling as a player," he said.

In other words, Anne Donovan, your record's on the clock.

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