With the game tied for the eighth time, Monmouth answered with the next six points, including Steele’s fifth three-pointer, to go in front 58-52 at the 6:00 mark. SFU trimmed the deficit to 60-57 on Dom Major’s three at 4:59, but Steele’s pull-up jumper in the lane with two ticks left on the shot clock, gave MU a 64-58 edge with 2:10 showing. Following a forced turnover and a defensive stop, the Hawks grabbed a 65-58 advantage on a Nicholas free throw with 22.1 left.
Monmouth, which hit 9-of-20 from beyond the arc, tied a season-high for three-point makes, and connected on 40.7% from the floor, while forcing 19 Red Flash turnovers.
“Saint Francis fought for a win tonight, and we were very fortunate to pull this one out,” stated head coach King Rice
. “My kids are playing extremely hard on defense, but I have to get them to relax on offense, so they can play like themselves. I have to be better as a head coach to free their minds and give them a chance to play how they play.”
Behind a wing jumper from Brown and Steele’s corner three-pointer off a feed from Dion Nesmith
(Union, N.J./Union), the Hawks grabbed an early 5-2 lead, before the Red Flash answered with an 8-3 spurt over a 2:18 span to take a 10-8 lead at 15:00.
Steele drilled his second three of the game to start a 6-0 run for the Hawks, to take a 14-10 advantage on Marcus Ware
’s (Vineland, N.J./Vineland) lay-in, but SFU responded with a 13-3 streak to go ahead 23-17 at 8:53 following six straight points from Ben Millaud-Meunier.
Over a 90-second stretch, the Hawks put together an 8-0 run to reclaim the lead, 25-23, with 6:28 showing following a free throw from Gary Cox
(Houston, Texas/Nimitz) and Ware’s post. In the spurt, Steele drained his third trey of the stanza, in the corner, off a find by Max DiLeo
Ronnie Drinnon’s basket at 4:50 halted the Monmouth streak, knotting the game at 25-25, but the Hawks capped off the half with a 12-3 stretch as part of their 20-5 run, not allowing a field goal to Red Flash over the final 4:50, to hold a 37-28 lead at the break, as Steele and Nicholas connected from deep in the run for MU.
Monmouth, which took its third-highest halftime lead into the intermission, grabbed an 11-point lead out of the break on Tyrone O’Garro’s (Newark, N.J./Saint Peter’s Prep) drive, but SFU netted an 8-0 run, capped by back-to-back three-pointers from Earl Brown, to climb within 39-36 with 17:47 left.Ed Waite
’s (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Pine Crest) offensive rebound and putback gave the Blue and White a 43-38 advantage at 15:25, before the Red Flash netted four straight to climb within 43-42 with 12:16 showing, and snared the lead on Major’s three-pointer, 47-46, with 10:54 remaining.
Nicholas’ trifecta reclaimed a 49-47 lead for the Hawks, while Stephen Spinella
’s (Colts Neck, N.J./Apex Academy) transition three put MU ahead 52-49 at 8:58, but Earl Brown’s three-point play knotted the game at 52-52 with 8:39 left.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Tyrone in getting the start tonight. He hasn’t played a lot of minutes, and he didn’t know he was going to start until right before the game, and I thought his energy was outstanding. Khalil is one of the shy kids on our team and when he hit that three it was fun to see kids having fun tonight,” added Rice. “I’m not sure how much fun they’ve been having losing seven in a row, but it was fun for our kids to get out there and get in the win column.”
Whyatt paced SFU with 13 points, while Earl Brown posted a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Millaud-Meunier also netted 11, and Stephon Mosley chipped in seven points and nine boards. The Hawks held Umar Shannon to four points on 1-of-8 shooting, as the Red Flash fall to 1-13 overall and 1-2 in the league.
Monmouth, which has now won four straight NEC home openers, returns to action on Saturday, January 12, when the Hawks host Robert Morris in Northeast Conference action in the MAC. Tip is set for 7:00 p.m.
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