Monmouth had already proven themselves as a MAAC contender before they ever set foot on the court at the Hynes Center Friday evening.
Wins over UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown had stamped the Hawks as a force to be reckoned with in college basketball this season. A win over Quinnipiac last week ended a 10-game losing streak to the Bobcats and proved Monmouth could overcome past demons.
But a win over the MAAC’s top team proved the Hawks are the new team to beat.
Monmouth upended Iona 110-102 late Friday night in a game showcased nationally on ESPNU and in the process snapped Iona’s 26 game home winning streak, the sixth longest streak in the nation.
“I’ve been saying it since the beginning, you’ve got 20 of them and it’s a lot of them,” Monmouth coach King Rice said, commenting on the extended MAAC schedule. “Tonight was one of the 20, against a team that has been the best team. They’ve been the best team even though they haven’t won the tournament championship.”
The Hawks accomplished what so few other teams have been able to accomplish by doing what so few are able to: outshoot the Gaels. Iona is 45-5 in MAAC play on their home court under current coach Tim Cluess and have consistently been one of the highest scoring offenses in the nation, but Monmouth enjoyed an unreal shooting performance Friday night.
The Hawks shot a season-best 58.1% from the floor and 59.1% from 3-point range, including an inconceivable 9-for-10 mark from beyond the arc in the second half.
Monmouth’s second half spurt was punctuated by a flurry of 3-pointers delivered by Collin Stewart. The junior guard set a new career high with four 3-pointers, made all the more special by the fact that all four came in the span of 1:25 and helped push the Hawks’ lead well into double digits.
“I think Collin Stewart can play after college, and I think he can play in the big league,” Rice said. “Everybody thinks I’m crazy. The way he shoots the ball, you have to stand next to him. Collin is still working on his confidence. When Collin really truly believes in himself – and it might not happen for another year or two – somebody will be lucky to have him on their team after he gets out of college.”
The high-scoring affair was headlined on each side by who few will argue are the two best players in the MAAC. Monmouth’s Justin Robinson set a new career high with 29 points while Iona’s A.J. English fell one point shy of his career high of 46 (which is also tied with Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield for the Division I single-game record this season).
“If you want to be the best, you need to beat the best,” Robinson stated after the game. “Tonight to come in here and win in a hostile environment, in a gym that not many other teams are going to come in here and win at, is huge for us.”
Despite his tremendous performance, English was disappointed in losing not just the game, but the home winning streak. Iona has not been able to find a consistent supporting guard to score in the absence of last year’s MAAC freshman of the year Schadrac Casimir.
“Of course it bothers me,” English said of losing the home winning streak. “I’m not going to sit here and lie. Yeah, that hurt a lot.”
What ended up being a tremendous game that lived up to every expectation was marred by a postgame scuffle, which you can read more about here.
Iona and Monmouth renew their rivalry next month when they meet in West Long Branch on February 19.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.