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- Basketball player (1976-)
JERSEY CITY – Nothing could slow Monmouth down early in the season, including high-major competition and a daunting road gauntlet.
Then the pandemic took the air out from under the high-flying Hawks on their return from a 23-day COVID-19 layoff Friday.
Of course, a withering defense by Saint Peter’s had something to do with it, as the Peacocks, coming off a 27-day layoff of their own, took control early and then held on for a 67-62 win at the Yanitelli Center.
After trailing by as many as 12 points in the second half, Monmouth cut the deficit to two points in the final minute but was unable pull off the comeback despite 16 points by Jersey City native George Papas, including 14 in the second half.
“Nobody on the team came out with the right amount of intensity to play Saint Peter’s,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “And when you come out against Saint Peter’s and they get comfortable like that their deal is they just come after your manhood. And they came after our manhood and we weren’t ready, and that is on me.”
The loss drops Monmouth (10-4, 2-1) from the ranks of the unbeaten in the MAAC, leaving Iona alone atop the standings. Monmouth still tops the nation with seven road wins, and had an NCAA NET ranking of 59 entering the game.
Monmouth has lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, having fallen to Hofstra back on Dec. 22.
Even though the Hawks had four players in double figures - Shavar Reynolds had 11 points, and Walker Miller and Myles Foster finished with 10 apiece - they hit just 3-of-13 from beyond the 3-point line.
“That was the focus all week in practice. We knew Shavar and Papas were shooting over 40 percent from the 3-point line," said Saint Peter's guard Daryl Banks, who finished with a team-high 13 points. "We knew we had to run them off the 3-point line and contain them off the dibble, too. We were locked into that all week. It was really just talking to each other. Coach (Shaheen Holloway) said if we talked, we can’t mess up.”
Saint Peter’s (4-6, 2-1) missed two games due to opponents canceling before an internal outbreak cost them two more games. The Peacocks were strong inside, outrebounding Monmouth, 42-37, including 18 offensive rebounds.
If Monmouth can rebound at Marist Sunday, it would set up a heightened showdown fwith Iona Tuesday at OceanFirst Bank Center.
Monmouth pulled to within two with just under two minutes to play and then again cut Saint Peter's lead to 61-59 with a minute left on a Papas jumper. After KC Ndefo sank a pair of free throws with 41.4 seconds remaining, Reynolds scored inside to make it 63-61 with 30.9 seconds on the clock.
Matt Lee sank a free throw for Saint Peter’s, and Reynolds hit one at the other end to make it a two-point game with 11.1 seconds left, before Banks hit two free throws with 8.8 seconds left to make it a two-possession game.
"I was just trying to light a fire under us," said Papas. "We tried to get back but we just couldn't close it out."
After Monmouth scored the game’s first five points, Saint Peter’s stormed back with the next 10 points, grabbing the lead on a Banks jumper before Doug Edert drained a long 3-pointer at the 16-minute mark.
By the midway point of the first half, Reynolds, Papas and Marcus McClary were all on the bench with two fouls, as Rice went with a lineup featuring a freshman and three sophomores. Saint Peter’s led by as many as 11 points in the first half, as forward Hassan Drame and 6-10 sophomore forward Oumar Diahame each scored six points.
Game preview: Monmouth basketball vs. St. Peter's: 3 keys as Hawks look to stay unbeaten in MAAC
JERSEY CITY - Saint Peter’s last played on Dec. 18. Monmouth hasn’t taken the court since Dec. 22. And with COVID-19 once again wreaking havoc with college basketball schedules, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen when the two face off Friday night in a MAAC clash at the Yanitelli Center.
What we do know is that Monmouth has played well on the road this season, winning seven times, still the most true road wins in the nation. And while the Hawks lost at home to Hofstra last time out, they’ve still won 10 of their last 12, with an NCAA NET ranking of 65.
“Monmouth is a good team,” Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway said. “The key to me is Marcus (McClary). He is playing unbelievably right now. (George) Papas is playing well. They are older which always helps, and the kid from North Carolina (center Walker Miller) is unbelievable as well.
“They have great non-conference wins, which is great for them and great for the league.”
When last seen, Saint Peter’s was falling on the road to America East preseason favorite Stony Brook, 64-63.
“(Holloway) is really a good coach and they haven’t played like his teams have played in the past yet,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “They got KC (Ndefo) back and it probably took a little longer because you didn’t know he was going to be back until right before the season, and (Holloway) probably already had his plans and kids are getting comfortable. Then your star comes back and that changes the whole makeup of your group. Shaheen Holloway will get them right by the time this all has to be ready.”
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Here are three keys for Monmouth. And check back later Friday night for complete coverage of this MAAC showdown:
1. Strong in the paint
It looms as the biggest test so far for a Monmouth front court that has exceeded expectations thanks to the addition of Miller, the 6-11 graduate transfer from North Carolina averaging 14.9 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Ndefo, Saint Peter’s 6-7 forward, is the reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and the preseason pick for Player of the Year. Fousseyni Drame, a 6-7 forward, is averaging 9.9 rebounds, while Hassan Drame is averaging 4.2 rebounds off the bench.
“I talked to Walker about who they are and how they get down,” Rice said. “But I want to see them deal with our guys. I want to see somebody deal with Walker.
“There are some very good guys in this league but there’s probably none better than Day’Ron Sharpe, who he played against every day at North Carolina, who is now playing with Brooklyn. He has been in a lot of situations and has a lot of stuff and it hasn’t all come out yet.”
2. Run, run, run
Monmouth is at its best when it’s pushing the pace, with its pressure defense igniting the fast break. Saint Peter’s wants nothing more than to turn this into a half-court game.
If the winning score is 65 or under, it favors the Peacocks. If it’s above that, look for the Hawks to come out on top.
Monmouth is 6-1 this season when scoring 75 points or more. They weren’t able to outrun St. John’s on the road, falling 88-83.
St. John’s is a common opponent, with the Red Storm topping Saint Peter’s, 91-70.
3. Star power
The nation is catching on about Papas, Monmouth’s leading scorer and MVP so far this season. The 6-5 guard was added to the watch list for the Lou Henson Award, given annually to the top Mid-Major player in the country. Justin Robinson, Monmouth’s all-time leading scorer, won it in 2017.
As Papas goes, so go the Hawks. When Papas catches fire, it energizes the entire team. He’s averaging a team-best 16.3 points, and has the most steals, assists and the second-highest rebounding total.
But when he’s off, the Hawks struggle. In their three losses, he’s 6-of-31 from the floor, and 4-of-27 from 3-point range. He was 2-11 against Hofstra in their last game, all from long range. He's 4-of-14 from the floor and 1-of-8 from 3-point range in two career games at the Yanitelli Center.
Check back right here Friday night for complete coverage and analysis of this key MAAC game.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth NJ basketball falls to Saint Peter's