Monmouth has been one of the best stories in all of college basketball this season. With wins over USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown, the Hawks did as much as they could in the non-conference season to give them a chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
However, with losses to Army and Manhattan on the road already on its resume, Monmouth could ill afford a loss on Friday night to No. 176 (per KenPom) Rider.
And with four minutes left and the score at 76-62, that’s exactly where this game looked headed.
That’s when the comeback started.
Deon Jones hit a jumper. Then Pierre Saar made a shot assisted by Justin Robinson. Later, Je’lon Hornbeak knocked down a 3 from another pass from Robinson. Then with a minute left, Robinson set up Micah Seaborn for a 3-pointer to tie the game at 76. But with 22 seconds to go, the Monmouth defense finally broke down and Kahlil Thomas knocked down a shot to put Rider back in the driver’s seat. The Hawks came down the floor, called timeout, and set up a play.
Well, maybe not a play. Realistically, the idea was as simple as “give Robinson the ball and get out of the way.” Typically, that’s gone well for Monmouth and coach King Rice this season.
This time was no different.
Robinson knocked down a 3 with five seconds left, and the defense held on the other end to give the Hawks the 79-78 win. He finished with 21 points and six assists, dominating the game down the stretch as he so often has this season.
This time, it was his job to lead a 17-2 run to save the Hawks at-large bid hopes. It’s, of course, possible that they could always get in by winning the MAAC Tournament, but having a greater margin for error is always so important for mid-majors, especially in the mine-field of a tournament that includes solid teams like Iona, Manhattan, and Siena, all of whom are capable of catching a good team on the right night.
A good night for the Hawks in averting one of those road land mines.