(This story appeared in the March 9th issue of The Outlook, the student run newspaper of Monmouth University.)
It came right down to the wire, but the men’s basketball team fell short in their quest for a MAAC Championship as they were defeated by the Iona Gaels 79-76 on Monday night at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY.
The Hawks, who played this game in front of 3,115 fans, had an opportunity to tie the game with 13 seconds left. Junior guard Je’lon Hornbeak inbounded the ball to senior guard Deon Jones who gave it off to junior guard and MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson, who looked for a lane to the rim. Instead, he handed the ball off to an open Jones who had it taken away and the Gaels escaped with the victory and their ticket to the big dance punched.
“The play was to come off the double ball-screen and throw it back to a shooter and that wasn’t open,” Robinson said postgame. “I heard Coach Rice say to go get one. I made a play to the middle of the court. Deon stepped up, so I dumped it off to him for an easy bucket and the defense made a good play.”
The game was the best in an MU uniform for Hornbeak, who finished with 20 points and was a perfect 7-7 from the floor, including 5-5 from three. Robinson finished with 14 points while freshman guard and MAAC Rookie of the Year Micah Seaborn had ten. This was the first loss all season for the Hawks when they had a lead at halftime (22-1). Both of the losses for MU over their last 15 games have come against Iona, after the Hawks defeated the Gaels 110-102 in New Rochelle on Jan. 15.
The Hawks had a 34-30 lead heading into the second half. A Jones’ layup was followed by a Deyshonee Much three-pointer and a Jordan Washington layup to cut the MU lead to one. Robinson and A.J. English exchanged three-pointers leading to a media timeout. A layup by junior center Zac Tillman was followed up by another English triple to tie the game at 41 with 15:32 remaining. The Hawks then went on a 7-0 run with a pair of free throws by Tillman and Robinson followed by a three by Hornbeak, giving the Hawks a 48-41 advantage. Iona came back at the 7:35 mark with a Washington layup, tying the game at 60.
A controversial technical foul was called on junior guard Josh James after a layup to tie the game at 67 with 4:06 remaining and Iona responded with a pair of free throws by English and a tip-in by Washington giving them a 71-67 lead at the under-four minute mark. The Hawks were able to tie the game at 71 after a pair of Robinson free throws, but never got the lead back.
A.J. English had a knack for playing the Hawks tough this season as the senior guard put up 45 points in the team’s first meeting when the Hawks came out on top and went for 31 on Feb. 19 in West Long Branch. But he was one of four Gaels to post double-figures in the title game.
“It’s not just A.J. They’re a good team,” said King Rice, who was named the MAAC Coach of the Year. “(Jordan) Washington had 15. Isaiah Williams had 17. A.J. had 19. (Deyshonee) Much had 15. (Ibn) Muhammad hits the three in the corner late. A.J. didn’t dominate tonight. They are a good team. A.J. dominated the first game and we won. He outplayed us the second game and they won. Today their team beat the Monmouth team.”
MU went up against the fifth-seeded Fairfield Stags in the semifinals and came away with a victory to secure their spot in the Championship Game. The Stags came out playing zone defense and had the lead for the majority of the first half, leading by as much as nine points at the 5:54 mark. But the Hawks adjusted and ended the half on a 21-6 run to take a 42-36 lead into halftime. MU came out and picked up where they left off as the blue and white went on a 20-4 run that was capped by a layup by sophomore guard Austin Tilghman with 12:34 to go as the Hawks were up by 22. They would go onto win 76-63.
The game also saw the return on senior guard Deon Jones, who missed the previous five games after undergoing surgery to repair his broken right hand on Feb. 18.
“I am so happy for Deon Jones and his family that he is able to play again,” Rice said. “Of course it makes our team better but for what he’s done and meant for Monmouth University, it was hard to see him not be able to finish his senior season. I am truly so happy for Deon and the Jones family that he gets to finish his senior season on his feet.”
Seaborn led the blue and white with 17 points while Robinson finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. Jones had nine points and seven rebounds in his return to the floor.
MU defeated #4 Rider in the Quarterfinal on Friday 59-48. The Hawks held the Broncs to 16 first half points and led 32-16 at the half. MU was led by Seaborn, who shot only 30 percent from the floor but had 14 points. Junior center Chris Brady had 12 points and nine rebounds and Tilghman finished with 12 points.
With Iona gaining the MAAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Hawks and the MU fan base will have to anxiously wait until Selection Sunday to find out if they will receive one of the 36 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.
The show airs this Sunday, Mar. 13 on CBS and will begin at 5:30 p.m. If they do not receive the at-large bid for the national tournament, MU has guaranteed a bid to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) by winning the MAAC regular season title.