Back-to-Back Regular Season Titles for Men’s Basketball

MB Regular Season Titles 1Already up by fifteen points, junior guard Austin Tilghman put up a prayer from about 75 feet just before the halftime buzzer sounded. The ball smacked the middle of the backboard and fell through the net, sending OceanFirst Bank Center into a frenzy.

It was that kind of night for the men’s basketball team as they overwhelmed Niagara 93-75 on Friday night. Monmouth secured the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) regular season title for the second straight year with the win and also secured the top seed in the MAAC Tournament, which takes place from March 2-6 at Times Union Center in Albany, NY.

“Any time you win the league, that’s pretty cool and that says a lot for these young men right here to come every night and in a tough league like the MAAC, to win the championship and be up four games,” Head Coach King Rice said.

Monmouth also became the first team in D1 basketball to secure a postseason berth. By claiming the regular season title, MU has guaranteed themselves another trip to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). Last season, they advanced to the second round and fell to George Washington, who went onto win the tournament.

When Monmouth won the regular season title last season, most of the sellout crowd of 4,194 stayed for a post-game speech from Rice. Neither occurred this time, as this group has their sights set on higher expectations. They want to become the fifth team in program D1 history to make the NCAA Tournament.

“We are happy about it because this was one of our goals, but it wasn’t the main goal,” senior guard Je’lon Hornbeak said. “We just kind of check this and keep moving forward.”

“It’s the first step of our major goal,” senior point guard Justin Robinson said. “We wanted to get to this point so that we solidified postseason play. But in the end, this is not where we want to be and we’re not cheering like we’re done, because we still have goals to accomplish.”

MB Regular Season Titles 2Robinson, who was named both MAAC Player of the Week and Lute Olson National Player of the Week on Monday, led the way with 27 points in only 22 minutes. He made seven three-pointers for the second game in a row, he made eight in his previous game, and shot nine of 13 from the floor.

Rice is never surprised by Robinson’s accomplishments anymore. “Here’s the thing - Justin has his 40-point game (Feb. 13 at Siena) and he’s in the gym the next morning getting a hard workout in,” Rice said. “This is what our guys do and when you have weapons like this on your team, you just get out of the way so they can play.”

Hornbeak scored 16 points and added five rebounds, reaching double digits for the sixth game in a row. Senior guard Josh James had a career-high 10 rebounds. The current Monmouth senior class has 80 wins, which is the most in school history in a four-year span.

Monmouth has won the MAAC regular season title in back-to-back years for the first time since joining the league in 2013. The only other time they won back-to-back conference regular season titles was in 2003-04 and 2004-05, when they were members of the Northeast Conference (NEC).

The Hawks return to the court for their final home game of the season when they welcome Siena to West Long Branch on Friday night. Tip-off will be at 7 p.m. and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.

PHOTO TAKEN by John Sorce