Monmouth had another successful basketball season as the Hawks finished 27-6 and won the MAAC regular season title. With their sights set on the NCAA Tournament, their hopes were dashed after an upset loss to Siena in the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament. The season was not a waste for the Hawks however as they earned their second consecutive NIT berth, the first time the program has made consecutive postseason trips. Monmouth would be welcoming Ole Miss to the OceanFirst Bank Center, the first time a team from the SEC would visit West Long Branch.
In the end, Monmouth was not able to keep up with Ole Miss in the second half as the Hawks saw their season end losing 91-83 at home in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
Monmouth attempted 19 three-pointers in the first half, eight of which they made. Justin Robinson shot 13 of those attempts and made only four, which hampered the Hawks in the first half. Where inside shots were possible, many possessions saw the Hawks take deep, low percentage shots which helped Ole Miss stay in the game.
Ole Miss stayed close due to their offensive rebounding. Thanks to nine offensive rebounds, the Rebels were able to pick up 12 second chance points. Sebastian Saiz led Ole Miss with 13 first half points as both Ole Miss and Monmouth both worked hard inside as both teams finished the first half with 16 points in the paint.
Ole Miss came out of the locker room and went on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 47 as the Hawks continued to shoot the three in the first few minutes of the second half. Robinson and Je’lon Hornbeak hit three-pointers as Monmouth took a 53-50 lead into the first media timeout of the second half.
After scoring only two points in the first half of play, Deandre Burnett started to heat up in the second half as he hit four long range shots for Ole Miss. Monmouth started incorporating other players as Hornbeak and Diago Quinn began to hit big shots for the Hawks to keep them in the game as Burnett and Ole Miss began to find their groove in snow and rain soaked New Jersey.
The latter part of the second half saw Monmouth not able to hit a field goal for a four minute stretch. During that stretch, Ole Miss went 4-of-5 from the field to take their lead to 76-70. Robinson’s sixth three-point basket of the game, and his 2,000th point as a Hawk, pulled Monmouth to 76-73. Besides that Robinson three, Monmouth was 1-for-11 from the field that allowed Ole Miss blow the game open and go on for the win.
Ole Miss was led by Saiz as he finished with a double-double, 23 points and 11 points. Burnett scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half for the Rebels, who now await the winner of the Syracuse/UNC-Greensboro game that was pushed to Wednesday night due to bad weather in Syracuse.
Justin Robinson scored 23 points in his final game with Monmouth as Ole Miss’ 1-3-1 defense held Monmouth’s leading scorer to just 7-of-25 shooting from the field. Je’lon Hornbeak did his best to backup Robinson pouring in 18 points but he also had a tough shooting night as the Hawks shot just 41 percent from the field.
For the Hawks, they will be losing five players going into next season so it will be a tall task for Monmouth to repeat as MAAC champions. But the Hawks will return All-MAAC First Team guard Micah Seaborn and Austin Tilghman next season so it is not out of the question that the Hawks will compete for the MAAC crown in the 2017-2018 season.