By Kevin Sweeney
At the annual NCAA media mock bracket selection, Monmouth made the field with an at-large bid as one of the last four teams in. Even with wins over UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, and Georgetown, the margin of error for the Hawks was pretty slim. Monmouth’s chance for an at-large seemed to be slipping away as they trailed by 14 with just 3:58 to go in the game. From then on, Monmouth exploded, going on a 17-2 run to finish the game, capped by a contested 3 by Justin Robinson with 3.8 seconds to go.
Monmouth went into the break confident after finishing the first half on an 18-8 run and led 44-35. But Rider came out of halftime energized and ran off to a 23-5 run to start the half. The Broncs made their first 7 threes of the second half after shooting just 2-12 from downtown in the first half. A sold-out Alumni Gym was rocking, and all of the momentum seemed to shift to Rider. After that, it seemed as though whenever Monmouth made a run, Rider had the answer. 6’7″ junior forward Kahlil Thomas, who led the Broncs with 18 points and 13 rebounds, was a steadying force in the paint for Rider whenever they needed a bucket. The game’s momentum seemed to shift back to the Hawks when 6’8″ freshman wing Pierre Sarr checked into the game with 5:52 to go. In just 6 minutes of action, Sarr scored 4 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, and provided energy on defense for the Hawks.
“He played great. He was getting rebounds & playing hard defensively, ” said senior captain Deon Jones on Sarr’s performance in a post-game interview with Monmouth play-by-play announcer Eddy Occhipinti. “When he came in, he gave us a major boost of energy.”
Sarr’s defense was a major key for Monmouth, forcing turnovers and bothering inbounds passes with his long arms. With the help of Sarr, the Monmouth defense locked in, only allowing 6 points and forcing 2 turnovers in the final minutes of the game.
Still, the game couldn’t have been won without the late-game heroics of MAAC Player of the Year front-runner Justin Robinson. The 5’8″ junior guard knocked down a huge 3 with the clock running down and the nothing happening on offense. Here’s the shot that gave Monmouth the win: (H/T Matt Allaire)
Monmouth improved to 21-5 (13-2), while Rider fell to 10-16 (6-9). Monmouth plays next on Monday night at home vs Manhattan, while Rider will try to rebound on Sunday vs Niagara.