WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – Barclays Center Classic Tournament Co-MVP's Deon Jones (Wilmington, Del./Sanford School/Towson) and Andrew Nicholas (Wrightsville, Pa./Eastern York) combined for 46 points, including a career-high 27 points from Jones, to pace the Monmouth University men's basketball team to a 76-61 victory over North Carolina A&T on Saturday night in the MAC.
"I am very excited about tonight's win," said head coach King Rice. "Our kids are definitely growing up right in front of our faces. It is like each night out on the floor different guys can contribute in different ways. I have been saying that something special is happening with this group and I really feel that it's starting to take form right now. I am just really proud of these kids and very happy and blessed to be the coach at Monmouth."
Jones, who tied the school-record with 18 free throw makes in the game, added four rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block on Saturday night, to go along with Nicholas' 19 points, three rebounds and two steals. The classmates combined for 101 points and 20 rebounds in the two games for the Blue & White to claim MVP accolades.
Rice added about Jones and Nicholas' weekend, "When you have two guys who are high level scorers like that, you always hope they click together. They haven't even started clicking together the way that they're going to. They're roommates, they're together a lot, they're really starting to play like themselves and when those two guys can score like that it gives the freshmen room to just play basketball and then they don't have to play under stress about having to win games for us. I'm really happy that Andrew got going for us. Deon has been going all year and we're just going to keep riding those guys."
Monmouth, which trailed by as many as 11 in the first half, and fell behind 39-33 with 17:07 remaining in the game, rattled off a 23-2 run over a 6:15 span to take a commanding 56-41 lead with 10:32 remaining.
After NC A&T climbed within 62-51 on Waylan Siverand's lay-in at 5:19, the Hawks pushed their lead to 69-53 with 4:02 left, following seven straight points from Max DiLeo (Cinnaminson, N.J./Cinnaminson).
Freshman guard Josh James (White Plains, N.Y./Archbishop Stepinac) added a season-high and game-best nine assists (zero turnovers), with four rebounds, while DiLeo notched nine points.
Highlighted by Jones' night at the charity stripe (18-for-19), the Hawks connected on a season-best 84.6% (22-for-26) from the line, and forced 22 Aggie turnovers. Jones' 18 makes tied Blake Hamilton, who hit 18 free throws against St. Francis Brooklyn (21 attempts) on February 27, 2004.
The Aggies jumped out to an 8-1 lead on the Hawks, and pushed their advantage to 14-3 at 16:00 behind four three-point trips down the floor. Jones netted the next six points for the Hawks, who climbed within 14-9, before Greg Noack’s (Bethlehem, Pa./Liberty) first career basket made the score 15-13 with 13:10 left.
Following six straight free throws for the Blue & White, the Hawks took their first lead of the contest, 21-20 on a pair of Jones’ foul shots at 6:07. Jones drilled a three-pointer to reclaim the lead for Monmouth, 24-23, with 4:33 showing, , while a triple from Nicholas pushed MU in front 29-27 with 1:04 left.
Four straight free throws from NC A&T’s Richaud Pack gave the Aggies a 31-29 cushion with 31.2 seconds left, but out of a timeout, Tyrone O'Garro (Newark, N.J./Saint Peter's Prep) threw down an alley-oop pass from Jones for a dunk with 08 ticks left to knot the game at 31-31 at the break.
Pack led the Aggies with 19 points, while Lamont Middleton added 15 and Jeremy Underwood chipped in 10.
Longwood’s Karl Ziegler (20.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg), MVSU’s Anthony McDonald (23.5 ppg, 11-of-17 3FG) and North Carolina A&T's Richaud Pack (20.5 ppg, 24-of-26 FTs) earned All-Tournament team honors.
Monmouth returns to action on Thursday, December 5, when the Hawks face in-state rival Rider University in the school’s MAAC debut at 7:00 p.m. in the MAC. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.
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