The season came to an end for men’s basketball in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) on Tuesday, Mar. 14 as the fourth-seeded Hawks fell to fifth-seeded Ole Miss, 91-83 at OceanFirst Bank Center.
“It was a big honor for our program to be in the NIT and get a home game,” Head Coach King Rice said. “What we have accomplished as a group with (Vice President/Director of Athletics) Dr. (Marilyn) McNeil at the head has been amazing.”
Monmouth had a 42-39 halftime lead but were outperformed by the Rebels in the second half, who shot 65.4 percent from the floor and 7-11 from deep. It was only the second time this season Monmouth lost when having a halftime lead – the other game being the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament semifinal game against Siena on Sunday, Mar. 5.
Senior point guard Justin Robinson scored his 2000th career point on a three-pointer with 4:33 to play in the second half that cut the Ole Miss lead to 76-73. He became the second Hawk ever to score 2,000 points, joining Ron Kornegay (1966-69).
“It stings to lose your last game in your home building, but it’s hard to be down when you realize what we’ve done in our careers,” said Robinson, who will end his career with 2,003 points. “Now is the time when we can take a step back and look at what we’ve done. We couldn’t do that throughout the season until that final buzzer went off. It hurts but it’s hard to be down about it.”
Robinson and senior guard Je’lon Hornbeak combined to make 13 three-pointers. Hornbeak finished with 18 points on 6-for-13 from deep and Robinson had 23 on seven three-pointers and two free throws. Junior guard Austin Tilghman, who made his first career start, and sophomore forward Diago Quinn also scored in double-figures.
The Rebels were led by Sebasian Saiz, who recorded a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He was 6-9 from the floor and a perfect 10-10 from the free-throw line. Four more Rebels scored in double figures including Breein Tyree, who is from Somerset and went to high school at St. Joseph’s. He is also the cousin of former New York Giants wide receiver and Super Bowl hero David Tyree.
Ole Miss Head Coach Andy Kennedy also had praise for Rice and what he has been able to do with this program. “I’ve known King Rice since both of us were in college and I have great respect for what he’s done,” Kennedy said. “This was a team effort and that’s what it was going to take because I thought they were terribly under-seeded.”
Kennedy continued, “I know based on their resume, there wasn’t a lot of talk this year as opposed to last year in terms of them getting an at-large bid, but I really thought they would be at worst a two (seed) because that’s a very good team.”
Monmouth ends the season with a 27-7 record and have won 55 games over the last two years. They were 13-2 at home this year and won 24 out of 28 home games over the last two seasons. Robinson and Hornbeak believe that this program will continue to grow.
“We have had this program going up since I stepped foot on campus,” Robinson said. “I always joke with Josh (James) and Chris (Brady) about it. We were lucky to play for Coach Rice right now at a time where this program was on the rise and we added Je’lon to the mix as well. Coach Rice is going to continue to bring in the right guys and keep this program heading in the right direction.”
“These last two years have been real fun with this group,” Hornbeak said. “I love to win, I’ve won everywhere I’m at. So just the fact that I can share the joy of winning and really make winning something we’re supposed to do here, that’s the standard we set.”
PHOTO COURTESY of Monmouth Athletics