Saturday, February 11, 2017

Monmouth exorcises Draddy demons with late comeback to sink Manhattan

Micah Seaborn's go-ahead three-pointer in final minutes lifted Monmouth during game-ending 11-1 run to pull out road win against upset-minded Manhattan. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

RIVERDALE, NY -- Championship teams have those moments of resilience forged throughout the season, often in situations where victory seems improbable, especially in a venue that has been confounding in more ways than one. Yet through the fire, the heart of a winner survives and carries such a team to the finish, adding another layer of toughness to an already hardened facade.

Friday night was one of those instances for Monmouth.

Entering Draddy Gymnasium, where the Hawks had never won in five lifetime trips and had a victory snatched away in the closing minutes last season, Monmouth again found themselves on the ropes against a Manhattan team poised to pull off its biggest statement of the year. But an 11-1 run over the final 3:34, punctuated by Micah Seaborn's three-point field goal in the right corner that broke a 57-all tie with 87 seconds remaining in regulation, turned what seemed like a demoralizing loss into a character-defining 62-58 triumph over the Jaspers, giving the Hawks their eleventh consecutive win and head coach King Rice his 100th victory overall since his 2011 arrival in West Long Branch.

"We just played hard," said Justin Robinson, who was held in check with just seven points, a season low for the reigning MAAC Player of the Year as the Hawks (21-5, 13-2 MAAC) were forced into their third-lowest shooting effort of the season, only managing a meager 31.4 percent (16-for-51) from the floor against the Jaspers. "We played hard throughout the whole game, but the last four minutes, we just kicked it up and said, 'this is the last four, let's really just focus on getting stops and trying to take care of the basketball and make the right play."

Trailing 57-51 before the game-changing spurt in a seesaw battle that neither side led by more than seven points, the Hawks strung together a fluid stretch that the most opportune time, getting four straight points from Josh James, the last three coming on a conventional three-point play that trimmed the deficit to two markers with 2:49 left on the clock in regulation. A pair of Austin Tilghman free throws nearly a minute later tied the score, and after a timeout on the heels of a steal, Robinson drove the baseline before flipping to Seaborn on the perimeter, feeding the sophomore sharpshooter for a look that splashed through the net.

"I drove, and I was like, 'alright, they're gonna stop me from taking the shot," Robinson recounted as he described the go-ahead basket. "I remember Micah getting to the corner, and we worked on that all morning, and I was like, 'I'm not gonna force this if Micah's wide open.' I turned and hit Micah, and Micah made the big shot."

"When I first drove in, I saw J-Rob open, but I didn't get a good enough pass to him," said Seaborn as he provided his own first-person narrative of the possession. "I ran out and I thought, 'if he gets it to me, he gets it to me,' so then I just spotted up, and it was a pretty easy shot."

Seaborn himself only scored 10 points on the night, joining Chris Brady (10) and Je'lon Hornbeak (17) in double figures for the Hawks, who withstood two late attempts by Zavier Turner to play the hero for Manhattan (9-17, 4-11 MAAC) in the final minute. The junior, whose 27 points led all scorers, had an open look at a potential game-tying triple from the top of the key with eight ticks to play, but it rimmed out after a full revolution inside the cylinder. Pierre Sarr secured the rebound, and proceeded to hit one of two free throws to seal the outcome as both players and coach lauded the maturity of a team who cleared one giant hurdle in their quest to provide redemption for last season's near-coronation.

"It's a huge step in maturity," an elated Robinson remarked after locking up the win in Riverdale he had adamantly craved over the past two seasons. "I remember last year, we had a similar situation and then we didn't score in the last four minutes after the technical foul. We were just focusing on staying together and making sure we played the right way, putting the ball in the basket and getting stops at the other end."

"For us to win this game tonight, the way the game had been played the whole time, that's big-time," Rice admitted. "We took a great shot from Manhattan. They gave us a shot tonight and we figured out a way to get it done, so to me, that's an exciting win. That's a grown-up win."

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