By Jim Hintelmann
WEST LONG BRANCH –When Monmouth University came out in the second half Saturday against Robert Morris with a torrid display of three-point shooting by Dion Nesmith and Jesse Steele to grab a 53-38 lead, it seemed that the Hawks would be on their way to their biggest win of the season.
Unfortunately for Monmouth, it was unable to maintain its shooting accuracy and fell in overtime to the Colonials, 81-73, in a Northeast Conference battle.
“I don’t think that it was inexperience,” said Monmouth coach King Rice. “Our kids battled just like their kids did. They finished some plays and we didn’t.”
Trailing 33-29 at halftime the Hawks, with Nesmith and Steele each dropping in a trio of treys, quickly went in front, 48-34, with a 19-1 run as Monmouth hit nine of its first 10 shots overall.
“We had a nice conversation at halftime and the kids really responded,” said Rice.
“We were looking for each other and, when we made the extra passes, the shots went in,” said Nesmith who finished with 22 points, including six of seven from three-point range. “We felt that we had the game won, but they began making their shots and we got down on ourselves.
“They are one of the top teams in the league,” he noted. “It’s tough to lose when you are home and have great fans here.”
The Colonials, led by Velton Jones, who led all scorers with 35 points, gradually cut into the Monmouth lead and finally tied it up at 61-61 on a lay up by Anthony Myers with 5:07 left.
“The game was my fault,” said Rice. “They went on a big run and I called a time out. Maybe I should have called more, but the way their kids played down the stretch, I don’t know what more we could have done.”
Monmouth regained the lead twice at 63-61 and 65-63 on a pair of lay ups by Phill Wait, but Jones hit a three-pointer to put the Colonials back in front, 66-65 with 2:55 remaining.
Jones added a free throw with 1:11 left, but Monmouth’s Andrew Nicholas hit a short jumper to tie the game with 55 seconds to go.
Following a missed shot by Coron Williams, Monmouth worked the ball for a final shot, but a corner jumper by Steele at the buzzer missed, sending the game into overtime.
“I had 100 plays for Jesse to get open,” said Rice. “He was open at first, but this kid Jones switched and goes on him. It wasn’t even his switch but he goes on him.
“I probably shouldn’t have put a screen in there for Jesse,” Rice admitted. “I tried to give him a little help, but it was the wrong call.”
The Colonials totally dominated the overtime, scoring the first eight points and Monmouth never got closer than six in the remaining time.
“We got more plays in,” said Rice. “We went 3 for 11 and they were two for four and won it.”
Despite his team having a rough season (4-14) , Rice remains optimistic.
“When we lose, it stinks,” said Rice. “That is the mentality that we are going to change. Their kids fought not to lose tonight and got it done. We fought and fell a little short. Our kids played well enough to win and this loss is totally on me.”