Saturday, February 11, 2017

Monmouth 62, Manhattan 58: 5 Observations

RIVERDALE, NY -- For 36 minutes and 26 seconds, Manhattan seemed on their way to recording their biggest win of the season, owning a six-point lead on MAAC leader Monmouth with 3:34 to play in regulation. But an 11-1 run by the Hawks, highlighted by Micah Seaborn's go-ahead three-pointer with 1:27 on the clock, provided the visitors with their first win at Draddy Gymnasium in program history, a 62-58 victory over the Jaspers that also served as King Rice's 100th career triumph.

Below are the traditional handful of takeaways from Friday night's affair, one in which the Hawks took a larger step toward wrapping up what would be a second consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season championship:

1) Character forged through maturity.
Justin Robinson, who spoke of an ardent desire to win on Manhattan's home floor on multiple occasions last season, celebrated the older, wiser group of players on the court for their ability to make winning plays at the right moment. So too did his head coach, whose words throughout this season; in the wake of Monmouth's 28-win breakthrough a year ago, were again proven prophetic.

"I've been saying all along: We're a much better team than we were last year," Rice concurred. "Just how we've won, we're a much, much better team. I think we're deeper, we're tougher mentally; and last year's team, I don't know why we didn't win this one last year. We were winning almost the whole game last year, and then the technical happened and we got shut out the rest of the way, not mature enough to get it done."

"Tonight, older kids, man. Austin (Tilghman) made big plays, he's a junior. Jiggy (Josh James) was on defense doing great things, even made a couple of baskets. Older guys made plays."

2) "Great teams win that game."
That was the assessment of Steve Masiello, no stranger to MAAC success with a pair of conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances on his ledger over five-plus seasons at Manhattan, even after his Jaspers were outplayed over the closing stretch of the second half. In the lede to our game recap, we spoke of championship teams finding moments of resilience (some fans may call it destiny) in situations where a win does not appear to be in the cards. When asked if Friday's victory was an indicator of such a moment for Monmouth, Masiello; a close friend of Rice, offered a candid and objective opinion:

"It's one of those times where Monmouth won with, and I say this in a positive way, with their C-game," he said. "That wasn't our game either, but when you can win on the road with your C-game, you've got a special team. I think that was evident tonight, and they did some things tonight that I think this is a good reflecting point."

"I always used to say on days when you're supposed to die, if you can manage to live, you're going to live a long time," Masiello elaborated, citing a quote from a come-from-behind overtime win against Marist during the Jaspers' 2013-14 championship season. "They deserved to win, but maybe we had a chance. We didn't capitalize on that and they did, and that was the difference."

3) Monmouth survived a trap game.
The casual fan could easily look past Manhattan given their tenth-place standing on the MAAC leaderboard entering Friday's contest, chalking up a win in advance of Monmouth's marquee matchup at Siena on Monday. But the experienced fan knew that the trip to Draddy would be a battle of attrition, and it was.

Both teams shot under 32 percent from the floor, with the host Jaspers holding the Hawks to their third-lowest shooting percentage of the season, outpacing only their November losses to South Carolina and Syracuse. The visitors were buoyed by two factors that may go unnoticed initially when perusing the final stats, a 24-for-33 effort at the foul line; earning seven more attempts and makes than Manhattan, as well as conceding just three field goals from beyond the arc of the 25 the Jaspers attempted, all of which were made by Zavier Turner (27 points) as Calvin Crawford and Zane Waterman went a combined 0-for-11 from distance.

4) Defensively, one of Manhattan's better nights.
Personally, this game was strikingly reminiscent of the Jaspers' 2014 NCAA Tournament matchup against Louisville, one in which the Cardinals were on the ropes down the stretch before snaring victory from the jaws of defeat. Seaborn even channeled Luke Hancock on his go-ahead triple, even hitting from almost the exact same spot in the right corner where Hancock got George Beamon to bite on a pump fake before driving a dagger into Manhattan's hearts. And despite the narrow setback, Masiello praised his team's commitment to their longstanding hallmark.

"The effort was great," he conceded. "I thought both teams really competed tonight. It was an ugly game, we shoot 31, they shoot 31, a lot of misses, a lot of rebounds, a lot of turnovers. I think we made them play ugly and they won ugly, and I thought; defensively, we were pretty good tonight. I thought we made Justin work, and that's what you want to do."

5) Looking ahead to Monmouth's road to the No. 1 seed:
The Hawks, provided they can win Monday at the Times Union Center, could clinch no worse than a tie for the regular season title should they extend their winning streak when Niagara comes to West Long Branch on Thursday. There is also the possibility that they can clinch outright should they defeat the Saints and then see Iona, currently second in the MAAC standings, split their upcoming Western New York trip this weekend. Should each of the top three teams win out for the next ten days, Monmouth would arrive in Bridgeport on February 21 with an opportunity to secure the regular season crown with a victory over Fairfield.

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