Friday, January 6, 2017

Monmouth snaps three-game skid with commanding win over Iona

Micah Seaborn's 25 points led all scorers as Monmouth ended three-game losing streak with a measure of retribution in runaway victory against Iona. (Photo by the Asbury Park Press)

WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ -- Even with both Monmouth and Iona struggling out of the gate to begin Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play, the hype was still strong for their first collision with one another since last March's conference championship tilt in Albany, one that sent the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament and ultimately relegated the Hawks to the National Invitation Tournament after a captivating regular season.

Ten months later, Monmouth may not have been motivated as much by revenge as they were by the need to stop a three-game losing streak, but whatever was propelling the Hawks on Friday certainly worked, as four players achieved double-figure point totals in an authoritative 92-74 takedown of the Gaels at the OceanFirst Bank Center.

"Tonight, our kids were able to get away from Iona's team," head coach King Rice said as Monmouth (11-5, 3-2 MAAC) used separate 12-2 and 16-5 runs in the first half to establish a double-digit lead that proved to be insurmountable for reigning MAAC champion Iona to overcome. "We played really well. We've been needing to play like this, and I told my team it is not the coaching at all. It is these kids. These guys are awesome."

An up-and-down track meet in the opening minutes, with Monmouth leading 29-20 at the 12-minute media timeout in the first half, appeared to set the tone for a shootout reminiscent of last January's 110-102 Hawks win in New Rochelle, a game in which A.J. English's 45 points were overcome by Monmouth's blistering second-half shooting and a stretch where they made 14 of their first 16 shots after the intermission. Any comparison to that affair dwindled in the second half Friday, as Iona exited the break with an 8-for-32 shooting effort that head coach Tim Cluess lamented after the buzzer sounded.

"They played much better than us," Cluess assessed as Iona (9-7, 2-3 MAAC) shot just 34 percent from the floor for the night. "They found out what a veteran team that shares the ball and is a very good team looks like. They just put it to us, all the credit to them."

Monmouth scored a season-high 54 points before the halftime period, turning a 38-36 affair into a 13-point lead with a 16-5 spurt to conclude the opening stanza. The Hawks would not let their lead slip to less than 13 points for the remainder of the game, putting it away on an 11-2 run that ended in a Je'lon Hornbeak three-pointer that made the score 82-59 with 8:31 remaining in regulation.

For the Hawks, Micah Seaborn's 25 points led all scorers, while Chris Brady came within a rebound of a double-double by amassing 19 points and nine boards. Justin Robinson, the reigning MAAC Player of the Year, had a resurgent game with 18 points and seven assists. Sam Cassell Jr. led Iona in a losing effort with 20 points.

As the Gaels regroup to face red-hot Canisius at home Sunday, Monmouth draws a sleeper Marist team in their next contest, but armed with a renewed confidence boost following one of the Hawks' bigger wins of the season.

"Tonight, we were able to protect our home court, and I just want to celebrate these kids," a proud Rice said. "They were awesome with how they played, and I'm just happy we were able to get the losses, that taste out of our mouth."

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