WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – Once trailing by 18 points in the
first half, the Monmouth University men’s basketball team rallied to take a
14-point lead in the second stanza and secure a 79-73 victory over St. Francis
in Northeast Conference action in the MAC, on Thursday night.
The Terriers (15-13, 12-5 NEC) put together runs of 13-1 and 12-1 in the
opening half and took a 36-18 lead with 5:55 remaining on Stefan Perunicic’s
three-pointer. The Hawks, who finished the half on an 11-2 run to climb within
nine at the break, used an 18-4 run of their own to go ahead 63-49 with 7:17
left in the home victory.
Monmouth, now 11-19 and 9-8 in the NEC, had four players
score in double-figures, as Jesse Steele notched a game-high 18 points, while
Dion Nesmith and Andrew Nicholas tallied 15 points each, and Marcus Ware
contributed 12 points, five rebounds and a career-high five assists.
“I am so proud of these guys. That was a big time win and a big time comeback,”
stated head coach King Rice. “St. Francis’ staff is doing as good of a job as
any team in this league, and I think we were very fortunate to steal that one.
I am proud of all of our guys, especially Max DiLeo the way he came in and gave
us a spark.”
“I’ve told these guys since day one, if we stay together
through the whole thing, something special can happen this year, for this team,”
added Rice. “It’s a long, grind-it-out season, but we are playing our best
basketball right now. One more game and then it’s the conference tournament. We
can definitely win this last game. We’ve turned our season around and we can
get on a three-game road swing, because we’ve done that this year. We’ve won
three games in a row on the road. I really like our team right now, because we
are continuing to get better.”
The Hawks pushed ahead 9-7 following Nesmith’s three-pointer
as the junior netted seven of Monmouth’s first nine points, but the Terriers
answered with a 13-1 run over a 3:47 span, capped by eight straight points from
Ben Mockford, to grab a 20-10 lead with 13:00 left.
Monmouth stopped the streak on a pair of foul shots from Nicholas
at 12:32, while his three-pointer pulled MU within 24-17 with 10:15 showing.
SFC responded with a 12-1 spurt to double-up the Hawks 36-18
on Perunicic’s wing three-pointer with 5:55 remaining in the half.
Monmouth, which held SFC to just one field goal in the final
5:55 of the stanza, ended the half on an 11-2 run to climb within 38-29 at the
break. Mike Myers Keitt started the 9-0 Hawks’ spurt, and capped it with a fast
break dunk off a feed from Austin Tillotson, while Steele’s wing jumper trimmed
the deficit to single-digits at intermission.
The Hawks continued their hot streak out of the break,
jumping on the Terriers with a 10-2
spurt, started by Steele’s three-pointer and capped by five straight points
from Nesmith, to climb within 40-39 with 16:08 showing.
SFC halted the run on Mockford’s third three-pointer at
15:47, before two Ware free throws and a Steele trey gave Monmouth its first
lead since it was 9-7 (17:10 in the first).
Brent Jones’ drive reclaimed a 45-44 edge for the Terriers
at 14:41, but the Blue and White retaliated with a 9-0, 11-1, and 18-4 run to
haul in a 63-49 advantage with 7:17 showing, as Monmouth held SFC to just a
single field goal over the 6:19 stretch.
Trailing by 14, a pair of traditional three-point plays
pulled the Terriers within 65-55 with 6:06 left, and after four straight points
from Jalen Cannon, SFC trimmed the deficit to single-digits, 69-60, with 4:09
Cannon, who scored nine of 10 for the Terriers, connected on
another pair of free throws with 3:40 showing to make the score 71-62, while
Jones’ drive and single foul shots from Jones and Justin Newton made the tally
73-66 with 1:20 showing.
Tillotson connected on three free throws and Nesmith a
fourth to put MU ahead 77-68 with 28.9 left, before Mockford’s straight-away
trifecta made the score 77-71 with 19.7 ticks remaining.
Monmouth, which turned 21 Terrier turnovers into 27 points, went 22-for-30 from the free throw line, while tying SFC with 36 rebounds.
Cannon posted a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds, while Mockford hit for a team-best 16 points, including four three-pointers, as SFC hit 16-of-26 from the stripe.
Monmouth, winners of seven of its last nine, returns to action on Saturday, February 25 when the
Hawks host LIU Brooklyn, which clinched the top seed in the NEC Tournament, in the regular season finale, in the MAC, at 7:00 p.m.