West Long Branch, N.J.
Just minutes after Monmouth senior guard Justin Robinson stuck his latest dagger in the Siena men's basketball team, Saints senior guard/forward Lavon Long was begging for a rematch next week in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament.
"I want to see them again so bad," Long said. "It really hurts being a senior. I'm never going to be able to play in this gym again and I really thought we had them."
Robinson, soon to win his second straight MAAC Player of the Year Award, crafted a perfect ending in his final regular-season home game. His jumper with 12.5 seconds left was the crucial basket in a 77-73 victory over the Saints before a sellout crowd of 4,172 at OceanFirst Bank Center.
Robinson, who had 20 points, made a step-back shot from the left side over Siena's Nico Clareth to give the Hawks a 75-71 lead.
"I took about six step-back jumpers tonight and they either went right or left," said Robinson, who shot 6 of 18 from the field and 0 for 5 from 3-point range. "Coach (King) Rice said, 'Hold the ball and go get a bucket.' I was going to the rim, and (Clareth) bit and it allowed me to get a little more space and I just elevated."
After Clareth scored on a layup to cut the deficit to 75-73, Robinson sank two foul shots with 3.3 seconds left to secure the victory.
The Hawks (25-5 overall, 17-2 league) won their 15th straight game and completed a regular-season sweep of the Saints (14-16, 11-8). Robinson scored a career-high 40 points in Monmouth's 102-82 victory over Siena at Times Union Center just 11 days earlier.
But the Saints guarded Robinson much tougher this time and came out of this playoff-intensity loss feeling like the third time could be the charm if they see the Hawks again in the MAAC semifinals on Sunday, March 5 on Siena's home court.
"That would be a great feeling," said Siena senior point guard Marquis Wright. "I feel it was kind of, not better for us to lose, but (Monmouth) would have been more hungry if they would have lost, especially on Senior Night, coming into the tournament. Now we've got to get them in the tournament."
Top-seeded Monmouth will play in a MAAC quarterfinal on Friday at 7 p.m. Siena locked up a spot in the No. 4-vs.-No. 5 quarterfinal next Saturday at 9:30 p.m. against an undetermined opponent.
If both teams win, the Hawks and Saints will meet on Sunday, March 5 in a semifinal at 4:30 p.m.
"I've been confident all year this team can make a run in the tournament," Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos said. "We've never doubted that, have we? No matter when people gave up on us. We know we're going to make a run in the tournament, but we wanted that game tonight badly. We wanted to beat them to let them know we could beat them. Hopefully, we get to see them again."
The 6-foot-7 Long led Siena with 18 points and was the primary defender on the 5-8 Robinson most of the game.
"I'll tell you, Lavon Long took the challenge as good as anybody I've coached in my 27 years of stopping a great player who's little and quick," Patsos said.
However, Siena was playing 3-2 zone on Robinson's back-breaking jumper with 12.5 seconds left. The Saints' defense called for center Javion Ogunyemi to trap Robinson if he came off a screen, but Robinson drove instead.
"I asked Nico to stop the drive," Patsos said. "He did the right thing. Guy made a tough shot."
Wright added 17 points and nine rebounds despite cramping up badly in the second half after being sick all week.
"It was good until I started cramping up," Wright said. "I guess the four days I had off and not playing that much, my body wasn't used to it."
The Saints shot 27 of 60 (45 percent) from the field and made 9 of 25 3-pointers, including 4 of 9 by Clareth (16 points).
But Siena committed 19 turnovers that Monmouth turned into 16 points.
The Saints outrebounded Monmouth 43-30 and held an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points.
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