WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. — The actions of the Monmouth Hawks – their jubilant bench celebrations, upsets over power conference opponents and eventual exclusion from the NCAA Tournament – were chronicled extensively over the course of the year.
But on Monday night, the Colonials closed the book on Monmouth’s season in an 87-71 win in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
“We were able to beat a team in their gym that was right there [for the NCAA Tournament],” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I’m excited to coach our seniors for another three days.”
GW’s three seniors, playing to extend their careers as Colonials, all reached double-figures in scoring. Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen each scored 19 and Joe McDonald added 16 on 5-for-7 shooting to go with seven rebounds. For his part, redshirt junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh had a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
The only starter not to reach double-figures in scoring, Yuta Watanabe, may have been more valuable than all of them. He spent the majority of the game shutting down Monmouth’s leading scorer and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year Justin Robinson. Robinson, who at 5-foot-8 is an entire foot shorter than Watanabe (he spent much of his time on defense guarding 5-foot-11 Alex Mitola), was 2-for-16 with six points.
“No doubt Yuta was the player of the game for us,” Larsen said. “He was the MVP. He locked down a guy that is averaging 19 a game so this game goes to Yuta.”
Micah Seaborn led the Hawks’ guard-driven offense with 24 points and Je’lon Hornbeak added 14, but Monmouth shot 34 percent overall. That, and a 46-36 GW advantage off the glass, was enough to negate the cost of the Colonials’ 16 turnovers.
“To their credit, what hurt us, they got out on our guards and we really struggled to run an offense,” Lonergan said. “They pressured us up top, we had some guys come in there and get stripped, offensive fouls, so their ball pressure was better than I expected up top.”
To counter Monmouth’s pressure, Lonergan had Larsen setting a number of screens at the top of the key. The big man also racked up five assists during the game.
“They like to run up and down,” Larsen said. “We have two traditional bigs so it was a test for us and I felt like we passed it.”
The Colonials never trailed, but Monmouth didn’t go quietly. The Hawks answered each run, getting close only to see GW answer, either with a cut to the basket or one of the team’s nine threes.
At the start of the game, GW raced out to a 14-4 lead, but Monmouth answered with an 11-3 run and cut the lead to two points at 17-15. Head coach Mike Lonergan called a timeout, and it worked: GW hit 5-of-6 during the following stretch to pull back ahead by eight. The Colonials would have gone into the break with a healthy cushion, but GW was just 1-for-5 from the charity stripe in the first half and Monmouth made its last five buckets of the first period.
Monmouth cut the lead to one early in the second half with a layup and-one from Deon Jones, who was the third player for the Hawks to reach double-figures with 11 points. But Larsen went strong to the basket to answer and Cavanaugh added a three to pull away again.
There were some nerves when Garino and Cavanaugh picked up their fourth fouls with a few minutes to play, but Lonergan had hoarded timeouts and was able to go offense-defense for a few plays to protect them.
The Hawks made their last run with about eight minutes to go, aided by a handful of free throws. It was a five-point game with 8:15 to play after a pair of free throws from Robinson, but McDonald hit a jumper and Cavanaugh hit his second three to push the GW lead back to 10. Garino hit another three to extend the lead, which stayed in double-digits through the end of the game.
So GW survives and advances. The Colonials will play Florida on Wednesday at 7 p.m. That game will be televised on ESPN2. Because Florida’s O’Connell Center is closed for renovations, the No. 2-seed Gators give up their right to host and will travel to the Smith Center.
“My career can continue,” Larsen said. “I like that! But also, we get a big household name coming to our gym. Hopefully we can win that and go to Madison Square Garden.”