Monmouth basketball gets first-ever CAA win; 5 takeaways from 79-64 win over North Carolina A&T

There were signs. Like the halftime lead Monmouth took against No. 18 Charleston 10 days ago. Or the strong effort less than 48 hours earlier at UNC Wilmington, when the Hawks had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds.

And finally, after 12 straight losses and season’s worth of frustration, Monmouth put it all together in a 79-64 victory against North Carolina A&T Saturday at the Corbett Sports Center in East Greensboro, North Carolina.

It was the first-ever Colonial Athletic Association win for Monmouth (2-20, 1-8 CAA), which hadn't won since beating Manhattan for what had been its only win of the season back on Dec. 4.

“I had nightmares about this game, especially coming for Wilmington where we gave so much energy, and this is a quick turnaround,” Monmouth head coach King Rice said in a post-game radio interview. “But our kids believed in each other, they stayed together, they played with the same amount of fire that we did at Wilmington, and everybody just kept doing it over and over. And when you haven’t won in a long time it’s hard to do that, and today these guy were amazing. “

Monmouth's Tahron Allen drives against North Carolina A&T's Duncan Powell on Jan. 28, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Monmouth's Tahron Allen drives against North Carolina A&T's Duncan Powell on Jan. 28, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Sparking the victory was a spirited defensive effort - the Aggies shot just 37 percent from the field and 24 percent from the perimeter - and a career-best performance by sophomore guard Tahron Allen, who poured in 23 points, on 8-of-15 shooting. Freshman guard Jack Collins scored 16 points and junior point guard Jakari Spence and junior forward Klemen Vuga added 14 points apiece. It was Monmouth's highest point total of the season.

"Tahron can score," said Rice, who took Allen out of the starting lineup for several games recently. "Right now, I think Tahron is getting in better shape, he’s tired of losing, he didn’t like not being in the first five, and those are all natural things. He should be mad. When you have as much talent as he has a younger guy gets in there ahead of you that should motivate you some. And because on defense he has done a little bit better, we put him in the lineup."

North Carolina A&T (10-12, 6-5 CAA), also in its first CAA season, got 25 points from guard Marcus Watson.

After building an 18 point second-half lead at 55-37 on an Allen three-point-play with 13:38 to play, Monmouth withstood a run that saw the Aggies cut the lead to seven points. But Collins three-pointer with 3:47 left extended their advantage to 72-57.

Monmouth opened the second half with a 15-5 run, taking a 53-34 lead on a Jack Holmstrom three-pointer. It would turn out to be the biggest lead of the game, as the Aggies began to chip away at it as the second half wore on. A Watson three-pointer from the corner cut the lead to single digits at 57-48 midway through the half.

A strong early defensive effort helped set the tone, as the Aggies missed their first six shots, with Vuga blocking two shots and grabbing three early rebounds as they took an 9-1 lead. The Aggies went on a 10-0 run of their own to grab a 13-11 lead.

But after Horton’s jumper gave the Aggies a 20-19 lead, the Hawks went on a 13-2 run over the next 3:49, extending their lead to 32-22 on a corner triple from Collins. Collins would close out the first half scoring with another three-pointer from the corner, as Monmouth took a 37-29 lead into the break. It was just the third time they’ve held a halftime lead this season.

Through the first 20 minutes, they held the Aggies to 37 percent shooting, hitting just 4-of-15 from the perimeter.

Here are five takeaways from Monmouth's second win of the season:

1. Spence in control

Spence, a walk-on who starred at Toms River North, played 37 minutes at point guard. In addition to his 14 points, he had seven assists, five rebounds and just one late turnover.

“I think he had one mistake and I went crazy on him for that one mistake, but he controlled the game, he got everybody involved, he played incredible defense,” Rice said.

“He just took the game over.”

2. Free throw shooting

A team that has struggled from the free throw line this season was actually able to put this game away at the line, sinking free throws down the stretch. For the game, Monmouth made good on 17-of-21, while Spence hit all eight of his attempts. After Allen missed a pair of free throws, Monmouth made its final eight from the line.

3. Tight rotation

Rice leaned heavily on his starting five, with four logging 32 minutes or more, and did little upset the rhythm after they got off to a fast start. Point guard Myles Ruth played just six minutes, and forward Jarvis Vaughan, who had scored seven points in 11 minutes at Wilmington as he worked his way back from a preseason leg injury, got on the court for just one minute late in the game.

4. Paint production

While Allen doing much of his damage on difficult drives added to the numbers, Monmouth dominated inside against the Aggies. The Hawks held a 36-18 edge in the paint, and had a 37-28 advantage on the glass, limiting the Aggies to just nine second-chance points. Vuga just missed a double-double, finishing with eight rebounds.

5. Confidence boost

The ability to build on what had been its best performance of the season against Wilmington, and set another standard less than 48 hours later is a huge sign of growth for a young team. The next chance to take another step forward comes Thursday when they host Delaware at OceanFirst Bank Center.

Monmouth's Myles Foster at the free throw line against UNC Wilmington on Jan. 26, 2023 in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Monmouth's Myles Foster at the free throw line against UNC Wilmington on Jan. 26, 2023 in Wilmington, North Carolina.


Blueprint for Monmouth basketball rebound exists; plus 5 keys vs. North Carolina A&T

If Monmouth fans are looking for hope, they need look no further than a stunning turnaround that took place in its new home, where a blueprint exists for rising up from the college basketball basement.

Monmouth (1-20, 0-8) is the only team in the country with just one win heading into Saturday’s game (2 p.m./ with North Carolina A&T (11-12, 6-4 CAA) at the Corbett Sports Center in East Greensboro, North Carolina.  Over the past 12 years, only two teams have finished with as few as one win.

When head coach Pat Skerry took over at Towson in April 2011, the Tigers hadn’t had a winning season in 15 years. And they promptly went 1-31 in his first season. But he had convinced a reserve power forward at Georgetown named Jerrelle Benimon to come to Towson even though he had more than 40 offers when he transferred.

And after sitting out during that one-win season due to NCAA transfer rules, Benimon averaged 17.1 points for what had been an offensive-challenged lineup, and 11.2 rebounds, as the Tigers went 18-13 in 2012-13, which ranks as the single greatest one-year turnaround in NCAA Division 1 history.

Benimon, a two-time CAA Player of the Year, put the program on track, with the Tigers in position for what would be their fifth 20-win season since, after going 25-9 a year ago and getting a share of the regular season title.

He wasn’t the only addition – guard Jerome Hairston made the CAA All-Rookie team in 2012-13, guard Mike Burwell was a South Florida transfer, 6-9 Bilal Dixon was a graduate transfer from Providence and power forward Rafriel Guthrie was a JUCO transfer coming off the bench – but Benimon was the critical piece.

While that’s an extreme example, Monmouth needs to find its own Jerrelle Benimon.

For now, however, the focus surrounds building on what was Monmouth’s most encouraging performance of the season, losing to UNC Wilmington Friday night, 52-49, with a chance to tie the game in the final seconds.

Here are five keys against North Carolina A&T:

1. Consistency

Monmouth has struggled to back up promising efforts with an even more promising one. That’s what has to happen here. Win or lose, pushing a CAA team to the brink for the second straight game, on the road, would be a step forward.

2. Defensive intensity

After Monmouth led No. 18 Charleston at halftime 10 days ago before faltering in the second half, the Hawks came back and were unable to shut down Hampton two days later, allowing the Pirates to race off with a 16-point win. The 52 points allowed against Wilmington was 12 points better than their previous top defensive effort. If Monmouth commits to winning at the defensive end, they should be competitive in every game.

3. Hit shots

It’s that simple. Because as good as the defensive effort was Thursday night against Wilmington, you can’t win games scoring 49 points. Knocking down open shots and finishing inside is the only way the lowest scoring team in the country can start turning things around.

4. Vaughan return

In his three games since returning from a preseason leg injury, 6-9 forward Jarvis Vaughan has looked rusty, as expected. But he scored seven points in 11 minutes against Wilmington, in addition to picking up three quick fouls. As his playing time increases, the hope is Vaughan can provide a lift at both ends of the court.

5. Contain Kam Woods

A transfer from Troy, sophomore guard Kam Woods has been one of the CAA’s best this season, averaging 18.6 points, third in the CAA scoring race behind only Hofstra’s Aaron Estrada, the reigning CAA Player of the Year, and Delaware’s Jameer Nelson Jr. Finding a way to keep him under his average is critical.

Monmouth's Tahron Allen drives against UNC Wilmington's Jamarii Thomas (0) and Maleeck Harde-Hayes (3) on Jan. 26, 2023 in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Monmouth's Tahron Allen drives against UNC Wilmington's Jamarii Thomas (0) and Maleeck Harde-Hayes (3) on Jan. 26, 2023 in Wilmington, North Carolina.


Monmouth falls to UNC Wilmington, 52-49; Here are 5 takeaways as Hawks drop to 1-20

It was Monmouth’s best performance of the season, going on the road and giving UNC Wilmington, a top Colonial Athletic Association contender, all it could handle Thursday.

But after a tough three-point attempt by freshman guard Jack Collins that could have tied the game missed the mark in the final seconds, a great effort was all the Hawks had to show for it.

With the 52-49 loss, Monmouth falls to 1-20, the worst start in program history, and remains the only team in the country with just one win. They eclipse the standard set by the 1998-99 team, which started 0-19 before winning four straight games.

Monmouth was competitive throughout at Trask Coliseum in Wilmington, North Carolina. And while it was their eighth CAA loss in as many tries, it’s the first that was not by double-digits.

“The kids are still coming. When you’re down, you keep fighting and you keep your head up," Monmouth coach King Rice said, "I’m working and trying as hard as I can to get it right with my team and we keep playing hard, that’s a credit to these kids.”

UNC Wilmington (17-6, 7-3) has now swept the season series, having won, 69-55, on Dec. 28 in West Long Branch. The Seahawks were led by forward Trazarien White, who finished with 16 points, while guard Maleeck Harden-Hayes added 14 points.

Monmouth, which got its only win back on Dec. 4, was paced by nine points by junior forward Klemen Vuga, who just missed a double-double with 10 rebounds. Collins and sophomore guard Tahron Allen each finished with eight points.

More:Monmouth basketball is 1-19. What the AD says about coach King Rice, program’s future

Trailing by three points, Monmouth junior point guard Myles Ruth made a steal with 18 seconds to play. After a timeout, Monmouth tried to set up a shot from the perimeter for Collins, but the end result was a long, contested jumper from the side that bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.

For the game, Monmouth shot just 35 percent from the field, and 22 percent from three-point range.

Monmouth was within 48-47 after a pair of Myles Foster free throws with 3:10 remaining. But Harden-Hayes soared and scored on an offensive rebound, drawing a foul on Vuga and sinking the free throw to extend their lead to four points with 2:30 to play.

A Vuga score inside cut the deficit to 51-49 with 2:20 to play, but after a free throw by White, a pair of Monmouth turnovers helped seal their fate.

Foster, Monmouth’s leading scorer, was held to just five points, while grabbing eight rebounds.

Monmouth made a series of strong runs in the second half. A 5-0 burst, followed by a 7-0 run pulled them within 40-36, before a Collins drive made it a two-point game with eight minutes to play. Ruth’s hanging jumper in the late pulled Monmouth within a point at 46-45 with just under six minutes remaining.

In the first half, a driving layup in transition by Collins, before he poked the ball away at the other end, resulting in a Tahron Allen score at the other end to pull Monmouth within 15-10.

That was part of a 12-0 fueled in large part by Collins, who made four steals and scored six points as Monmouth surged to an 18-15 lead. But by halftime the Seahawks had a 29-22 edge, with Harden-Hayes leading the way with 11 points.

Here are five takeaways from Monmouth's latest loss:

1. Finally, a meaningful endgame

The question going into the season was who would take the final shot for Monmouth in a big spot. But this was the first time all season Monmouth actually had a chance to win or tie the game at the end. And needing a three to tie, Collins was the choice even though he’s struggled shooting over the last 10 games.

If Monmouth can keep putting themselves in these situations, they’re going to beat somebody eventually.

2. Commitment to defense

Monmouth got after it at the defensive end, with the 52 points allowed the fewest it's yielded all season, 12 points less than its previous best effort.  Collins finished with seven rebounds and four steals, as the Hawks forced 17 turnovers, while limiting the Seahawks to 39 percent shooting, and 4-of-16 from beyond the arc.

3. Game slowing down

Things are starting to click for Vuga, who continues to battle in the paint. The 6-9 junior came in off a 10-point, six-rebound effort against Hampton, and had eight points and eight rebounds against No. 18 Charleston before that.

He gives Monmouth a nice inside duo alongside Myles Foster. And if Foster had his usual game, Monmouth likely would have won.

4. Free throw woes

Monmouth’s been a poor free throw shooting team all season, but they haven’t been in enough close games for it to matter. But it mattered in this one, as the Hawks misfired on eight free throws for the game, making good on 15-of-23. The two biggest came when Jakari Spence missed a pair with 3:54 left in a three-point game.

5. Return home with a win?

Monmouth closes out its North Carolina trip Saturday (2 p.m.) with a game at North Carolina A&T, which is 11-12 overall, and 6-4 in CAA play. If they can summon the intensity they exhibited at both ends of the court in this one, they could have another chance to get their first-ever CAA win. But consistency has been a problem all season.

Monmouth's Jack Collins dribbles against UNC Wilmington on Dec. 28, 2022 in West Long Branch.
Monmouth's Jack Collins dribbles against UNC Wilmington on Dec. 28, 2022 in West Long Branch.


Monmouth basketball vs. UNC Wilmington: 5 keys as Hawks look to snap 11-game skid

Monmouth spent its first tour through the Colonial Athletic Association flying blind, with limited recent history against most of its new league foes.

But that won’t be the case when the Hawks take the court tonight at Trask Coliseum (7 p.m./ in Wilmington, North Carolina.

It was a month ago that UNC Wilmington (16-6, 6-3) came away with a 68-55 win at OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch, with the first rematch of the season providing a legitimate measuring stick for Monmouth (1-19, 0-7), in the midst of an 11-game skid.

Here are five keys for Monmouth as it looks for its first win since Dec. 4. And be sure to check back later Thursday night for complete coverage:

1. Defend hard

After a spirited defensive effort helped Monmouth take the lead into halftime against No. 18 Charleston last week – they eventually dropped a 69-55 decision - the intensity wasn’t there in Saturday’s 83-66 loss to Hampton.  If the Hawks commit defensively, they can be competitive in most games.

2. Win inside

There was a terrific battle in the paint in the first meeting between these two, and looms as a key showdown here. Monmouth forward Myles Foster had a double-double, with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and forward Klemen Vuga had 12 points. Seahawks’ forward Trazarien White had 16 points, as they scored 15 second chance points and held a 37-32 edge in rebounding.

3. Guard perimeter

North Dakota State transfer Maleeck Harden-Hayes, a 6-7 guard, comes off a 31-point outburst against Stony Brook in the Seahawks’ last game. He’s a good long-range shooter who does not miss from the free throw line, and keeping him closer to his 10.6 points-per-game average is key.

4. Find offensive rhythm

When Monmouth’s offense has flow, with the ball moving quickly, guys moving without the ball and making the extra pass, they can get good shots. Hitting them has been the problem, but finding a good rhythm and getting everyone involved is all they can do at this point.

5. Consistent scoring

If guard Jack Collins could knock a few shots down early, you get the feeling the freshman would break out of his shooting slump, having connected on just 22 percent of his shots from the floor, and 20 percent from the perimeter, over the past nine games.  His emergence as a consistent force offensively over the next six weeks will be critical

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth NJ basketball gets first-ever CAA win, topping North Carolina A&T, 79-64