WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth came out with a defensive intensity that resembled their victory at Cincinnati in November. And a selflessness at the other end of the court was reminiscent of a win at Pittsburgh in December.
But against MAAC leader Iona and its Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, it wasn’t quite enough.
And while Monmouth lost its fourth straight, an 86-85 overtime thriller, it had the feel of a performance the Hawks can build on, pushing the Gaels to the limit while flashing the early-season form that made them one of the most intriguing mid-majors in the country.
Were it not for some missed free throws down the stretch, Monmouth likely would have had its biggest win of the season.
“Incredible, incredible college game,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “I told our guys, Coach (Pitino), they’re great on defense, they’re as good at pressing you as anybody – I thought we figured it out today. We were right there down the stretch. We didn’t shoot free throws like Monmouth basketball always does, or the game would have been over.”
Monmouth (10-6, 2-3) missed four free throws in a 50 second span in the final 1:13 before Iona's Elijah Joiner connected on a 3-pointer with nine seconds left to give the Gaels a two-point lead. But Shavar Reynolds sank a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds left to send the game to overtime, tied at 79-all.
In the extra session, Reynolds was unable to get a shot off in the final seconds with the Hawks trailing by a point, after Joiner missed the front end of a one-and-one with 6.8 seconds left.
“It was a great college basketball game,” Pitino said.
“We knew it would be tough. Not only do we have great respect for Monmouth, they have played at St. Joe’s, at Yale, at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, at Charlotte, at Towson. Coming into league play they have played all four games on the road. So we knew they were going to play great tonight.“
Miller led Monmouth, which missed 11 free throws, with 22 points, while Reynolds and George Papas each scored 21.
Joiner led Iona (15-3, 7-0) with 24 points.
Iona scored the first five points, before Monmouth stormed back once again, with a Walker Miller floater and a drive by Marcus McClary pulling them within a point with 1:49 left in the extra session.
After Iona big man Nelly Junior Joseph sank a pair of free throws with 34.4 seconds left to make it a three-point game, Monmouth took a timeout with 23.4 seconds on the clock, and 20 seconds on the shot clock. Monmouth was unable to get a 3-pointer off, so McClary scored on a drive with 7.4 seconds left to cut Iona’s lead to 86-85.
Monmouth fouled Joiner with 6.8 seconds, setting up the dramatic end. Reynolds appeared to get fouled as he drove, but there was no call, allowing Iona to escape with the win.
Monmouth's performance comes two days after a 36-point loss at Marist, in which the Hawks struggled from the outset.
“If you watched the film you could see our effort was down, just our intensity,” Reynolds said. “The edge we had at the beginning of the season, we didn’t have that. So that was our biggest thing, getting that edge back, Getting our comradery back, staying together again, because that’s what makes us good.
“We don’t want to lose, but we’re back to playing Monmouth basketball, back to looking like ourselves as we looked during our winning streaks, so I think it’s definitely a step in the positive direction.”
Second half rally
Monmouth actually took the lead at 75-73 on a runner by Reynolds with 2:15 to play, after Reynolds tied the game with a free throw with just under three minutes to play. It capped a 7-0 run by the Hawks, which ended when Joiner drained a 3-pointer to put Iona up 76-75 with 2:02 on the clock.
The Hawks had a 77-76 lead after Miler scored inside with 1:37 left, but free throw shooting hur the Hawks down the stretch, missing four straight free throws, including two by McClary with 23.9 seconds left.
As the second half got underway, the Gaels opened up a 10-point lead when Quinn Slazinski sank a 3-pointer form the corner to make it 61-51 with 14:21 to play. But the Hawks quickly rallied,
Papas hit a pair of free throws, followed by a triple by Reynolds, following that up with a floater in the lane to make it 61-58 with 12:50 left. It eventually turned into a 12-3 run when Nikkei Rutty sank a pair of free throws to cut Iona’s lead to 64-63.
Iona once again opened up a five-point lead at 73-68, when Miller scored on a floater in the lane.
Strong defensive stand
Monmouth came out playing an aggressive, trapping defense, which resulted in several easy baskets for Iona early in the game. Junior Joseph scored three times inside, including a three-point play to pick up seven early points, as the Gaels jumped out to a 15-9 lead.
But Monmouth refused to let the Gaels slip away. A Papas steal led to a pair of free throws that made it a four-point game at the 13:48 mark. Eventually, it was a trio of Papas free throws giving Monmouth an 11-0 run and an 18-15 lead.
After Iona built the lead back to 29-23, Monmouth went on a 10-2 run, as Reynolds and Papas each hit triples, with a Samuel Chaput basket in transition giving Monmouth a 33-31 advantage with 4:35 left.
Papas, who had 16 points at halftime, connected on another three, before Myles Ruth stole the ball and scored on a driving layup and Papas it a pair of free throws to put Monmouth up 41-38. But after Miller scored inside with a minute to go to give Monmouth a 43-40 lead, Iona scored five points in the final 35 seconds, with Joiner laying the ball in at the buzzer to give the Gaels a 45-43 lead at the break.
Can Monmouth basketball come back from worst conference loss ever? 3 keys vs. Iona
WEST LONG BRANCH - The spotlight is still squarely on Monmouth. Just for a much different reason than a month ago.
Because after a performance as shocking as Sunday’s was – the Hawks were non-competitive in going down 46 points in the second half at Marist - a once-promising season is now in danger of spiraling out of control after three straight losses.
If that doesn't serve as a wake-up call, Monmouth could get run out of its own building Tuesday (7 p.m.; ESPN+) by the best mid-major this side of Gonzaga, as MAAC leader Iona (14-3, 6-0), and its Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, come to OceanFirst Bank Center.
The 36-point drubbing by Marist was the worst conference defeat in program history. The only one that comes close was a 31-point loss to Wagner in the final game of the 2008-09 season, in what was the final game in Boylan Gym.
In its last four games, Monmouth (10-5, 2-2) has played one really good half. That was the second half of a home win against Colgate back on Dec. 19. Since then, Monmouth's fallen behind by 18 points in both halves of a loss to Hofstra and been down 12 points in both halves against Saint Peter’s, before the aforementioned disaster in Poughkeepsie, New York.
And Marist nearly beat Iona on the road two weeks ago, so that’s how much better Monmouth has to play.
With all that said, Iona comes in flying high. Graduate transfer guard Tyson Jolly, who spent time at Baylor and SMU, is averaging 14.9 points and 4.9 rebounds, while sophomore big man Nelly Junior Joseph is averaging 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds. Elijah Joiner, a graduate transfer guard from Tulsa, is averaging 10.1 points and is second on the team in assists.
Here are three keys for Monmouth as it looks to end its three-game skid:
1. Better on the bench
The gameplan and in-game adjustments from head coach King Rice have to be better.
If the defense can’t make stops, try something else. If the offense isn’t functioning, draw up something that might. If a timeout’s needed, call it. Whatever it takes at this point.
Because allowing a game slip away that badly is not an option.
It’s one thing to take a hands-off approach with a senior-laden team when things are going great. But when they’re not, it’s time to take control and fix it.
2. More leadership
Monmouth has four fifth-year seniors and a senior in the starting lineup, and a senior as the first player off the bench. It’s time for leaders to step up, both on the court and in the locker room.
Coming together as a team, while holding each other accountable, is of the utmost importance right now. When the game was getting out of hand, no on emerged to make a difference, either with their actions or words.
Sure, Marist played well. But Monmouth made them look like the Brooklyn Nets.
3. Stronger inside
Winning on the glass is about determination and tenacity. And that’s one of the windows through which to view what ails Monmouth’s right now.
Monmouth has been outrebounded in four straight games, going 1-3. That after winning the battle on the boards in each of its first 11 games, going 9-2.
And Iona is averaging 37.7 rebounds-per-game, which is No. 1 in the MAAC. Junior Joseph, at 6-9, is coming off a 15-rebound performance against Niagara Sunday, and is averaging 9.8 rebounds over his last eight games.
Check back later Tuesday for complete coverage of Monmouth-Iona.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth NJ falls to Iona in overtime, 86-85