By Jim Hintelmann
WEST LONG BRANCH – Moral victories can be accepted from time the time, but Monmouth University men’s basketball coach King Rice has had enough of moral victories and wants to see some wins for a change.
The Hawks (3-14) gave Harvard (14-2) , ranked 25th in the country in several polls, a stiff battle, but eventually fell to a late Crimson surge, 70-61 Tuesday.
“It’s just one of those things,” said Rice, in his first year as Monmouth coach. “Getting close is not fine and doesn’t make you feel better. Losing is losing and we have to start winning.
“I’m not going to paint a great picture,” he said. “Sooner of later we’re going to break through and when we do that, we’ll see who wants to come and play.”
Trailing 46-34 early in the second half, Monmouth made a run that saw it finally tie up the game at 48-48 on a pair of lay ups by Austin Tillotson.
Harvard’s Wes Saunders scored on a drive but Monmouth’s Jesse Steele tied it again with a lay up before Kyle Casey gave the Crimson the lead for good, 53-50 with a three point play with 10:46 left.
Monmouth trailed 55-54 and had three chances to take the lead but missed three straight shots. The Hawks still trailed only 57-56 with 6:27 remaining before Harvard finally put the game away with nine straight points for a 66-56 advantage with two minutes to go, and Monmouth never got closer than seven points.
Senior Oliver McNallly led the way for Harvard in its late surge, making eight straight free throws.
“He’s the guy we wanted on the foul line,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. “He’s a senior and co-captain, and he’s been doing that for his entire career here.”
McNally was second in the nation in free throw shooting last year shooting at a .926 percentage and is 250 for 292 from the line for his career.
Harvard, whose only losses were to UConn and Fordham (a team that Monmouth beat 80-65 last month), started off fast with a 10-2 lead but the Hawks fought back and tied the game at 17-17 on a lay up by Marcus Ware.
“Monmouth played an exceptional game,” said Amaker. “They came back to tie it and we had our hands full. Give Monmouth credit but we still have some work to do.”
Harvard, behind the scoring of Keith Wright and Laurent Rivard, who had 18 and 16 points respectively moved back in front, 36-27 at halftime and then held off Monmouth’s second half rally.
Rice remained confident of the future and expects to eventually beat a ranked team, something that Monmouth has never done.
“There isn’t any question that we will be beating such teams in a little while,” he said. “Half of the problem here is that everyone accepts being mediocre and I don’t. We’’ll beat nationally ranked teams if they come here.
“I asked Tommy (Amaker) to come back in two years,” he pointed out. “We’ll go there next year, but he didn’t want to do it.”