JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Like many of the smaller guards in college basketball, we may never know what Justin Robinson’s real height is, but he’s listed at 5’8”, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for the purposes of this narrative.
While he’ll get some competition from A.J. English, he’s certainly in the running for MAAC Player of the Year at 20.3 points, 3.8 assists, and .430 three-point percentage. But Sunday, he was struggling. With 3 minutes left in a tie game with Saint Peter’s, Robinson had just 5 points on 2-8 shooting and looked – like the rest of his Monmouth team – as if the length of the season and pressure they’ve been under was wearing on him.
Then Robinson came to life.
His jumper briefly gave the Hawks the lead, but Saint Peter’s – who, like many lately, were giving Monmouth its best – answered with back-to-back threes to lead 62-59, and found a way to get the ball back with 1:14 left. But Josh James poked an inbound pass away and Robinson scooped it up and didn’t hesitate from about 26 feet to tie the game.
Down again 64-62 seconds later, Je’Lon Hornbreak missed a jumper, but Robinson, of all people, somehow managed to pull it in and got fouled with 29 seconds left, tying the game. After Antwon Portley missed making this complete narrative irrelevant by about an inch at the buzzer of regulation (“I was hoping that it didn’t go in. I tried my best to stop him,” Josh James, who was defending Portley, said), Robinson made all 10 of his free throws in overtime and finished with 22 points as Monmouth escaped the Yanitelli Center 82-75.
Saint Peter’s and Antwon Portley were thiiiis close to finishing Monmouth’s at-large chances possibly: pic.twitter.com/ZY8mGOZpzo
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) February 21, 2016
“I don’t know what it is, but the atmosphere is always a little weird here,” Robinson said. “It’s not hostile, but it’s just weird.”
Take it for what you will, but Monmouth (23-6, 15-3) seems to be right smack on the bubble at the moment and might have waved its NCAA at-large hopes bye-bye had Portley’s shot been a pixel longer. They don’t look like MAAC favorites two weeks from Albany, but – although losing Deon Jones for what appears to be the season will not help – with only home games against Rider and Niagara left (although Rider obviously nearly beat them the first time), the Hawks may have a chance to clear their heads, get some rest (Rice said afterward he would probably give them Monday and Tuesday off), and get prepared for a MAAC Tournament run.
Would be right on the cut line. https://t.co/7ioD6MpRnr
— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) February 22, 2016
“I was a bad coach the other night and I wasn’t the best coach today,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “In the huddle, I told them, ‘Guys, I need you to do this today. I need you to carry this and get it done.’ As a group, they came together and made defensive stops. They never put their heads down. Thank you for my team for grinding this out.”
What else did we learn on a warm Sunday afternoon in Jersey City?:
1) Saint Peter’s succeeded in slowing Monmouth down
The Hawks actually opened on a 12-3 run in the first 3 minutes, but got only 16 points in the rest of the half. The game finished at 70 possessions, but was at only at 61 after regulation, which would have been by far Monmouth’s slowest game of the season (previously 66 in its win over Notre Dame).
It’s hard to extrapolate exactly what that means, however, Monmouth’s slowest MAAC game of the season was also against Saint Peter’s (67 possessions), and the Hawks won easily while scoring 1.09 points per possession and offense was not generally Monmouth’s problem Sunday, finishing at a robust 1.19 ppp. Robinson is someone who can create for himself late in the shot clock and they hypothetically should have plenty of shooters (although only Micah Seaborn, who scored 26 points, seemed to be on against Saint Peter’s) to dish to. In three of its losses (Canisius, Army, Iona), Monmouth has gone for 80 possessions or more, so while it certainly won’t be nearly as entertaining, maybe they should slow it down a bit sometimes (they currently check in at 18th in adjusted tempo nationally and 7th in offensive time per possession).
2) Monmouth has seen everybody’s best lately
Coaches can try, and Rice was kicking himself a little after the game, but there’s no way to keep the same intensity for 30 games. You would think that the Hawks would be at their best after being pasted by Iona at home, but they had only 38 hours to recover and still seem to be adjusting to life without Deon Jones.
The intensity was there, but the confidence wasn’t quite right. The now-famous Monmouth bench was extremely quiet, the Yanitelli Center – which rarely sees any kind of sizable crowd – was loud, and Saint Peter’s had a great offensive day, especially Portley (27 points) and Trevis Wyche (24), who hit a couple of big three-pointers, and is shooting 45% from behind the arc this season after hovering near 25% in his first two years in Jersey City.
Again, they have two games left in the regular season to get a little bit of that swagger back or else they could be in some trouble going into Albany in their current form.
But they survived on Sunday, so things could be much worse.
“This is how I looked at it: I just went home, and you’re frustrated because you just got beat at home and they (Iona) really beat us,” Rice said. “And they BEAT us. It wasn’t that we played bad, or ‘Oh, we only brought our C game and they had their A game’ like everybody always says. They made us play bad and they outplayed us.
“So yesterday we talked about it and said, ‘You ever get in a fight and get beat up and get a big black eye and then you had to go back to school the next day and everyone was looking at your big black eye?’ That’s what it felt like. We had a short meeting because they’re bodies were tired and that was it.”
A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on
3) Lost opportunity for Saint Peter’s
Even with Sunday’s 1.07 ppp and 12-28 three-point shooting performance, the Peacocks are still 307th nationally and ninth in the MAAC in offensive efficiency, while the 12 threes were a season high, so this was their time it seemed to take Monmouth down and they came up agonizingly short.
So Saint Peter’s can grab some confidence, but playing so tough against the MAAC’s best heading into Albany, they’re also just a half-game ahead of Manhattan for fifth (and a first-round bye) and play the Jaspers Tuesday in Riverdale.
“We had them beat,” Saint Peter’s coach John Dunne said. “We’re leading late, and we’ve been really good with our pressure release stuff for the most part, and at the end of the day, we had a shot that was halfway down. We missed a lot of open shots, missed free throws, and didn’t execute down the stretch, so there are certainly things we can do better, but we were right there. We didn’t make them earn a lot of baskets at the end, we just fouled them a lot on straight-line drives and put them on the line, so that’s the most disappointing thing to me.”
If you hadn’t noticed, it was Autism Awareness week in college basketball with most coaches wearing a pin. It was started by Towson coach Pat Skerry and Tom Herrion, who both have family members who are on the autistic spectrum (Towson actually wore light blue uniforms Saturday for the event).
It is an issue dear to me personally, as I work with autistic teenagers in my day job (what, you thought this paid the bills?)
It was also ironic to catch up with Ronnie Weintraub this weekend, who took the time to say how big a weekend it was for Hillary Clinton, whom Weintraub campaigned for in New York when she was running for Senate, and is actually quoted in this story after she won the New York Democratic primary in 2008. To be fair, she has actually outlined a plan for people with autism should she win.
“Bernie’s done,” Ronnie said. “It’s over.”
(End of political talk, that was not an endorsement, sorry)
But it does not appear like Ronnie – after a falling out with Manhattan earlier this season – will be returning to Draddy Gym anytime soon, even for Tuesday’s showdown between his new team Saint Peter’s and Manhattan, which is too bad.