Micah Seaborn's 22 points led Monmouth as Hawks set school record with 22nd win, avenging earlier loss to Manhattan in a 79-70 victory over Jaspers. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ -- Monmouth entered the biggest week in what has been a banner season the same way they had for any other game that came before it: In a calm, methodical, businesslike approach. The Hawks knew they faced a formidable opponent in two-time reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Manhattan, who had stolen a win from them last month in Riverdale, yet did not shy away from the challenge.
Before a crowd of 3,040, Monmouth (22-5, 14-2 MAAC) atoned for their 78-71 defeat at the hands of the Jaspers at Draddy Gymnasium on January 21, taking their opponent's best shots for 40 minutes before dispatching Manhattan (11-13, 8-7 MAAC) by the final of 79-70, picking up their eighth consecutive win and 22nd overall, the latter setting a new program record.
"I'm so proud of these kids," Monmouth head coach King Rice said after the Hawks got their first win against Manhattan since joining the MAAC, doing so in their sixth attempt. "Sometimes it can get in your head when someone keeps beating you, so I'm glad we finally got over this Manhattan hump tonight."
"It was just growing up and showing we could finish the game down the stretch," said Justin Robinson, who scored 20 points in helping the Hawks overcome a mental hurdle of sorts of not being able to take down Manhattan. "We knew they weren't going to lay down and roll over, so for us, it was getting stops and just staying together."
Micah Seaborn complemented Robinson, and even outscored him by two points on a night where the Hawks forced Manhattan's already thin bench into action early, as Shane Richards; the Jaspers' leading scorer, picked up three fouls within the game's first four minutes, rendering him unavailable for the duration of the first half.
"When you get your best player with three in the first four, your back's kind of against the wall a little bit," said Steve Masiello of Richards' foul trouble. "It limits some things you could do offensively, but I think we did a good job of battling that."
Monmouth opened the game on an 11-2 run as the Hawks preyed upon Richards getting whistled quickly, but the Jaspers gradually chipped away at their deficit, even taking the lead briefly on Rich Williams' three-pointer with 8:28 to play in the opening stanza. The home team would regroup, however, regaining the lead with a 7-2 run and scoring the last six points before the intermission, breaking a 32-all tie shortly before retreating to the locker room.
Manhattan got within three midway through the second half, but in an effort to counteract the production of sophomore forward Calvin Crawford; who led the Jaspers with a career-high 22 points and eight rebounds, Rice went to a smaller lineup, playing five guards. Using Seaborn and Austin Tilghman as the de facto four and five, the move paid off for the Hawks, who were able to hold the visitors at bay while expanding their lead in the process.
"These guys are tough guys," Rice offered with regard to his guards. "We talked about 'gang rebounding,' five guys rebounding. I think Austin got in there and started throwing his weight around. We just continue to play."
While Manhattan finishes their stretch of four games in seven days against Saint Peter's in a Wednesday night showdown that can have significant bearing on the last two first-round byes in next month's MAAC Tournament, Monmouth sets their sights on the much-anticipated Friday night clash with Iona, one where the Hawks could clinch the conference's regular season crown with a win.
"I know it's going to be a crazy atmosphere," said Seaborn. "We can't get too caught up in the moment. We've got to win this and stay in first place."
"Everybody's anticipating it," Robinson added. "I'm just going to go into it as another game, another one on the schedule. We've got to defend our home court. It's another game we've got to win."