Monmouth gave its infamous bench another memorable win to celebrate.
The Hawks added to their growing collection of high-profile victories on Tuesday night in Washington D.C., leading Big East contender Georgetown nearly from start to finish en route to an 83-68 upset.
Monmouth never led by any less than nine points during the second half because the Hawks’ array of small, quick guards decimated the bigger, stronger Hoyas. They easily shredded Georgetown’s full-court pressure, they consistently got by defenders off the dribble and they knocked down half of the 20 shots from behind the arc they attempted.
Georgetown should have thrived on the glass and in the paint with Monmouth playing almost exclusively four guards, but the Hoyas never seemed to be able to exploit those mismatches. They instead attempted 29 threes and made only one-third of their field goal attempts, enabling the Hawks to notch their first victory over a Big East foe in 31 tries.
If Monmouth was still better known for the creative antics of its fun-loving bench entering Tuesday’s game, then the outcome should be a reminder that the Hawks are more than just a novelty act. They’re now 7-3 this season with victories over UCLA, USC, Notre Dame and Georgetown, all of which are in the top 40 in the latest KenPom rankings.
To put into perspective what Monmouth has accomplished so far this season, consider that tenth-ranked Xavier is the only other team in the nation with four KenPom top 40 victories. Top 10 teams Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia and Iowa State each have only one apiece.
Monmouth has assembled that enviable collection of wins using the same formula it deployed to defeat Georgetown — a combination of swashbuckling guard play, devastating fast breaks and deadly perimeter shooting.
The Hawks pressure the ball with their four guards and try to parlay turnovers and long rebounds into transition opportunities. They make up for getting bludgeoned at both ends on the glass by getting to the foul line consistently and knocking down a high percentage of both their free throws and 3-pointers.
Justin Robinson is Monmouth’s best player, a fearless point guard who entered Tuesday’s game averaging 21.3 points because of his ability to draw contact at the rim and knock down perimeter jump shots. Micah Seaborn is an excellent secondary scorer, but four other Hawks average seven or more points.
With everything that Monmouth has accomplished so far this season, the Hawks have worked their way into position to contend for an at-large NCAA tournament bid.
One big key will be UCLA, USC, Notre Dame and Georgetown performing well the rest of the season so those victories remain as relevant in March as they are now. The other will be the Hawks avoiding bad losses in the MAAC like the one they already suffered against Canisius.
While Monmouth would clearly be in the NCAA tournament if the season ended today, what’s working against the Hawks is that they can only hurt themselves during league play while power-conference teams will have chance after chance to pile up quality wins. Monmouth has earned some margin for error, but anything more than three or four losses in MAAC play and the Hawks might not want to chance losing in their conference tournament.
It would be fun to see the Hawks make it because the combination of their free-spirited bench and their freewheeling backcourt embody the spirit of the NCAA tournament.
Many have said March Madness won’t be the same if Ben Simmons and LSU don’t make it. In reality, the NCAA tournament would miss the small-conference Hawks far more.