old mens bball pic

Men’s Basketball Clinches First-Round Bye

old mens bball picThe men’s basketball team clinched a first-round bye in the upcoming MAAC tournament when they took down the Peacocks of St. Peter’s University 63-58 this past Thursday, Feb. 19 in Jersey City. 

One year removed from being eliminated by Rider in the first-round of the tournament as the ninth seed, the Hawks have now secured a top five seed in their second season as members of the MAAC. 

“I’m so excited for our kids,” said head coach King Rice. “These kids have been believing all along and good things happened for us tonight.” 

Junior guard Deon Jones shot an efficient 7-12 from the field on his way to a game high 23 points, including a perfect 9-9 performance from the free throw line. “I was just being aggressive,” said Jones on his performance. “My teammates were finding me and I was able to hit open shots.”

Sophomore point guard Justin Robinson and senior guard and captain Max DiLeo also broke double-digits for the contest. Robinson notched 11 points on the night, while DiLeo was right behind him with 10 of his own including two makes from behind the arc. 

Jones was firing on all cylinders out of the gate, as the redshirt junior hit four of his first five shots to help give MU a 13-2 lead through eight minutes of play. 

St. Peter’s managed to trim the lead down to six at the five and a half minute mark of the first period, but Robinson quickly made it a three possession game with a jumper in the paint that pushed the Hawks’ lead to eight. 

The Peacocks were finally able to slow down the Hawks over the last five minutes of the first, and eventually used a 12-4 run to come all the way back and tie the game at 23 with only thirty seconds to go before the half. 

However, MU would not be denied a halftime lead. It was Jones who again came up big for his team when, in the final seconds, he grabbed an offensive rebound off a DiLeo missed three and put it in to give the blue and white a slim 25-23 lead heading into the half. The second chance opportunity was a theme for MU throughout the game, as they turned nine offensive rebounds into 15 points.

Things stayed close when the second half began, but the Hawks were able to extend their advantage slightly, and led 35-30 at the halfway point of the second period. 

Just over two minutes later the Hawks opened their lead up to ten behind a DiLeo three ball and an old fashioned three point play from Jones. 

St. Peter’s refused to go away quietly, however, and began to claw their way back. A pair of free throws from Peacock Trevis Wyche closed out an 8-3 run that brought St. Peter’s to within four with five minutes left in the game. 

The Hawks again turned to the hot hand of Jones, and managed to increase their lead to nine at 57-48 with only 42 seconds to go in the contest. During the four and a half minute stretch Jones scored eight of 12 Hawk points with six of the eight coming from the free throw stripe. 

Although the lead appeared to be safe with very little time remaining, the Peacocks made things interesting by scoring five points in 14 seconds to cut their deficit to four, but that is as close as they would get. MU didn’t panic and hit six straight free throws in the final thirty seconds to seal the victory and first-round bye. 

On the night MU shot a respectable 21 of 47 (44.7%) from the floor, and was an impressive 17-19 (85.7%) from the free throw line. St. Peter’s shot just under 40% from the field and just over 60% from the foul line, but did hold a significant advantage over the Hawks with a 7-13 (53.8%) mark from three point range. 

Three days after clinching the first-round bye, MU went on the road and nearly beat top-seeded Iona for the second time this season. Unfortunately, for the Hawks, they ultimately fell 69-68 in a thrilling matchup between two of the MAAC’s best teams. 

The loss pushed MU’s overall record to 16-13 on the season, including a 12-6 mark in conference, while the Gaels improved to 23-6 overall with a 16-2 record in MAAC play. 

“I am very proud of my kids even though we came up a little bit short,” said Rice. “I feel bad because we outplayed them for most of the game, but they showed they are a championship team so they kept fighting and were able to come back. Give Iona all the credit in the world. Hopefully we get a chance to play them again.”

Robinson led the Hawks and tied Iona’s David Laury with a game high 24 points. The sophomore was one of four MU players to hit double-digits on the night. Jones was second on the team with 13, while senior forward Brice Kofane and sophomore center Chris Brady each chipped in with 10. 

The early portion of the contest was tightly contested as neither team was able to gain an upper hand. Through the first ten minutes of play the largest lead held by either team was an early 7-2 Hawk advantage just two minutes into the action. 

With eight and half minutes left in the first period the score was even at 22, and it appeared that it would be a back and forth contest all night. Robinson had something else in mind, however, and the point guard scored nine points to lead an 18-4 Hawk outburst to close out the half with MU leading 40-26.

As the second half began it was obvious the first place Gaels were not about to lay-down and fall to MU for the second time this season. Just five minutes into the period Iona had already cut the deficit to five, and was in the midst of a 22-8 run that was capped off by a Schadrac Casimir three that gave the Gaels a 49-48 lead with exactly 13 minutes remaining in the game. 

MU finally stopped the bleeding, and kept the game close over the next six minutes. Five straight MU points put the blue and white back in front at the seven minute mark, and the Hawks went ahead by four following a pair of Robinson free throws with fewer than three minutes left to play. 

With the clock reading exactly one minute, Jones hit one of two free throws to give the Hawks a slim 68-66 advantage. The missed free throw would prove to loom large as Iona’s A.J. English converted a three point play after being fouled by DiLeo to give the Gaels a 69-68 lead with thirty seconds left in regulation. 

Despite having two opportunities to score in the game’s final seconds the Hawks were unable to hit the game winning shot, and the buzzer sounded with Iona escaping with the one point victory. 

Both contests between these two teams this season were decided by a total of four points as MU came away with a three point win at home over Iona in December. While the loss was obviously disappointing for the Hawks, they have shown they can matchup with any team in the MAAC and are a force to be reckoned with in the tournament. 

With two games remaining in the regular season the Hawks currently sit alone in third place in MAAC standings, but both Manhattan and Canisius are right on their heels. 

As the regular season comes to a close Rice appears happy with his teams play, but he realizes there is still work to be done. “We were picked sixth, and you know I didn’t like that,” said Rice following the win over St. Peter’s. “So for us to be in the top five that means we did better than people thought we were going to do, but there’s still a lot of basketball to be played to see if we can do even better.” 

MU closes out the season with two home games against Rider and Siena before they head to Albany for the start of the MAAC tournament on Thursday, March 5. 

PHOTO COURTESY of Taylor Jackson