WEST LONG BRANCH – It doesn’t seem to matter.
Whether on the road or at home, against mid-major or high-major competition, conference or non-conference, Monmouth has played well every time it's taken the court this season.
After emerging as the winningest road team in the country on a groundbreaking six-game trip, Monmouth returned to OceanFirst Bank Center Sunday and nothing changed.
The Hawks, off to the the best start in program history, came through with a 77-66 victory over Colgate, winning for the 10th time in 11 games since a two-point season-opening loss at Charlotte.
Fifth-year sharpshooter George Papas was on from the outset, finishing with 30 points, including six 3-pointers. It was the fourth time the Union Catholic product has scored 30 or more during his career.
Fifth-year center Walker Miller added 15 points and eight rebounds.
“Walker and George really pulled us together,” Monmouth head coach King Rice said. ”Walker got off to a hot start and then George really got going. If our defense does what it did later in the game maybe we could have gotten away from them earlier.”
Locker room rant
It was Rice's halftime diatribe in the locker room, after defensive lapses left the Hawks in a 36-all standoff at the break, that lit a fire under his team.
The defensive intensity rose dramatically as the second half got underway, with a Papas steal and slam in the opening seconds setting the tone. Monmouth went on a 13-4 run over the first 4:27, with a Papas lob to Marcus McClary giving them a 49-40 lead, before it swelled to double-digits on a 12-foot Shavar Reynolds jumper with 14:35 to play.
“We got lit up a little bit in the locker room. Because of our maturity we were able to handle it,” Papas said. “Just starting out the second half, showing them we can guard and your stuff is not going to work against us, especially at home, and that is what we did.”
Added Rice: “I got on them. I haven’t done it like that this season. They knew I was frustrated with it, and I don’t have a big enough vocabulary not to use the words I used, but they got my point.”
Samuel Chaput’s 3-pointer with 8:02 to play upped Monmouth’s advantage to 68-49, capping a 32-13 run to open the second half.
Monmouth (10-2, 2-0 MAAC) continues its five-game homestand Wednesday when it closes out its non-conference schedule against Hofstra, which beat No. 24 Arkansas Saturday.
Monmouth went on an 8-0 run to take a 17-7 lead with 14:05 to play, as Miller scored six quick points, including slam dunk on the break after a feed by Reynolds, who just missed a double-double with nine points and nine assists.
“I made the first one. I kind of pivoted around and threw in that right jump hook so I felt I was rolling after that and just wanted to be aggeessive from there," said the 6-11 Miller, with the graduate transfer from North Carolina averaging 14 points and 6.8 rebounds. "Coach Rice has been telling me a lot recently just try to get to my jump hook, try to get the the places I like on the court. And then as the game went on they doubled me a little bit, and just try to get other people involved.”
Playing without leading scorer Nelly Cummings, the senior guard missing a second game with an upper-body injury, Colgate's Tucker Richardson led the onslaught from deep in the first half, connecting on four triples over the opening 20 minutes. Richardson led the Raiders with 17 points.
Rice gave his young players a good run in both halves, and they more than held their own, including during some extended time in the endgame.
The group forced a shot clock violation at one end midway through the first half that resulted in three Papas free throws. After sophomore forward Myles Foster scored, Monmouth’s lead was back to 24-17 with nine minutes left.
Richardson sank a a trio of 3-pointers within a 91 second span to give the Raiders a 36-34 lead with 1:01 on the clock, with McClary tying the game with a steal and slam dunk with 22 seconds left.
Monmouth basketball comes home vs. Colgate after successful road trip: 3 keys for Hawks
WEST LONG BRANCH – It’s been 25 days since Monmouth last walked onto the court at OceanFirst Bank Center. In the interim, all the Hawks did was win 5-of-6, including a pair of high-major scores, to become the nation’s winningest road team.
Now Monmouth (9-2, 2-0 MAAC), off to the best start in program history, puts its eight-game home winning streak on the line Sunday (2 p.m.; ESPN+) against Colgate (4-7, 0-0 Patriot League).
The Hawks have won 9-of-10 since a two-point season-opening loss at Charlotte.
“What’s happening is my vocabulary is not big enough to come up with all the words you can use to describe this team,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “This group, they just keep finding ways.”
When last seen at home, the Hawks were rallying from 14 points down late in the first half to beat Princeton, 76-64, back on Nov. 24. Princeton, with two high-major wins of its own, has won 5-of-6 since that loss.
The status of Colgate leading scorer Nelly Cummings is uncertain, with the senior sustaining an “upper-body” injury against Pitt, missing the game against St. John’s on Dec. 12. Cummings is averaging 17.6 points, shooting 43.3 percent from the floor and 93.3 percent from the line.
After winning at Yale Tuesday, Monmouth took two days off to regroup physically, with everyone nursing minor injuries expected to play, including George Papas (back) and Shavar Reynolds (knee).
Both teams have played St. John's and Pitt since Dec. 9. Monmouth lost at St. John's, 88-83, before winning at Pitt, 56-52. Colgate lost at Pitt, 71-68, before losing at St. John's, 82-64.
The last time these two played, Colgate rolled to an 87-74 win in 2018, in the second of what would turn into a 12-game season-opening skid for Monmouth. Colgate would reach the NCAA Tournament that year, falling to second-seeded Tennessee, 77-70. The Raiders returned to March Madness last season, hanging with No. 3 Arkansas for a half before falling, 85-68.
Here are three keys for the Hawks as they return to campus:
1. Defend the perimeter
Only 12 teams in the country have attempted more 3-pointers than the 323 the Raiders have launched, hitting an average of 11.4 per game, seventh-best nationally. Monmouth has limited opponents to just 27.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc, which ranks 27th in the country.
Monmouth’s ability to defend the perimeter the way it has all season is critical here. If Cummings plays, it’s a huge boost for the Raiders, with the 6-0 point guard connecting on 50 percent of his triples (32-of-64). Senior guard Jack Ferguson has also hit 32 from downtown, connecting at 38.6 percent.
2. Charity stripe success
Monmouth’s free throw shooting was nothing short of brilliant against Yale, which is saying something in season for a team that's been as high as No. 1 in the country in free throw shooting percentage. The Hawks hit 14 straight free throws in the final 5:16 – Yale was within three points in the final minute – and sank 29-of-33 for the game.
Combine that with Monmouth’s defensive prowess and the ability to get up on teams, and it was a perfect example of why the Hawks are so dangerous in tight games right now. Monmouth is currently No. 6 nationally in free throw shooting percentage at 80.63 percent.
3. Home cooking
The Hawks have proven their prowess as a superior road team, with their seven true road wins tops among Division I programs. But they’ve also won both games this season, as well as the final six last season.
Now they return home for five straight games, and their ability to maintain their momentum through a series of dangerous games could determine just how special this season will be. If the Hawks can keep rolling, it would set up an epic showdown with Iona in West Long Branch on Jan. 9.
But first things first. While Colgate has lost four in-a-row on the road, its last road win was at Syracuse, beating the Orangemen, 100-85.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth NJ basketball tops Colgate, 77-66; Papas hits for 30