Depleted bench plays big role in Rutgers' 73-67 loss to Monmouth


foremansanders
Photo by Edwin Gano |

Sophomore forward D.J. Foreman attempts to block a pass by Monmouth guard Justin Robinson in Rutgers' 73-67 loss to the Hawks Sunday. Foreman was one of just two bigs and eight scholarship players available for the Knights, forcing him to play cautiously as to not get into foul trouble, which in turn played a part in Monmouth's 42 points in the paint.


PISCATAWAY — The Rutgers men’s basketball team entered its matchup with in-state foe Monmouth Sunday with just eight scholarship players available.

The Scarlet Knights were especially depleted down low, where they were without sophomore center Shaquille Doorson (foot), junior forward Deshawn Freeman (knee) and redshirt freshman forward Ibrahima Diallo, who suffered a fractured foot in practice Thursday.

With a depleted bench and a lack of size, it was crucial for the Knights (4-7) to stay out of foul trouble. In order to achieve that, head coach Eddie Jordan implemented a zone defense for much of the game.

“I thought that’s why our zone was pretty good.” he said. “It keeps you out of foul trouble a little bit. You don’t have to guard screening actions and things like that.”

Photo: Edwin Gano

Monmouth's bench hits the dab, a dance move popularized by Carolina Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton, to celebrate a basket by their teammates. The Hawks bench has made national headlines throughout the season, putting on a show on the sidelines as their teammates put on a show on the court. The Hawks have upset Notre Dame, USC, UCLA and Georgetown in the out-of-conference portion of their schedule.

Rutgers’ zone defense was incredibly solid for a 3-minute period in the second half. Between the 8:34 and 5:24 minute marks, the Hawks (8-3) failed to score a basket against the Knights and only hit two baskets from the start of that stretch until the final two minutes.

The numerous stops on the defensive end allowed Rutgers to climb back from an 11-point deficit to tie the game up at 65 with 2:17 remaining. Once the game was tied, Jordan opted to play man-to-man defense, believing it’s the optimal defensive shape down the stretch in a close game.

“The zone helped us limit our fouling, it helped us in disrupting some of their man offense,” the third-year head coach said. “But again, they got some things in the middle (of the zone), drove on us and look, when it comes down to the real nitty-gritty, you got to guard man and that’s what we had to do at the end.”

The man-to-man defense was ineffective, however, and Monmouth outscored its host, 8-2, in the final two minutes to take a 73-67 win back to West Long Branch.

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Half of the final eight points scored by the visitors came from the charity strip, where the Hawks struggled from throughout the contest.

Entering Piscataway, Monmouth led the nation in free-throw percentage, knocking down 83 percent of its attempts from the line.

The Hawks shot 55 percent against Rutgers, going 11-for-20 on the afternoon and hitting just 7-of-16 prior to the clutch free throws down the stretch.

What Monmouth didn’t produce from the line, it made up for in the painted area in front of it. The Hawks outscored the Knights, 42-14, in the paint, bullying the home team inside on both ends of the floor.

Sophomore forward D.J. Foreman was forced into doing his best not to put his team in an even more compromised position by getting into foul trouble, which he believes affected both his and the team’s performance on the defensive end, particularly underneath the basket.

However, he refuses to use the circumstances as an excuse.

“(Having only eight available players) was a factor, yeah. That was a big factor,” Foreman said. “Me and (senior center) Greg (Lewis), we tried our best to not foul out because like I said, we don’t want to put any of our other players like (freshman forward) Jonathan (Laurent) or (senior guard) Omari Grier in that position to have to guard those big guys. But at the same time, it’s not excuse to allow them to outscore us in the paint because we’re good scorers in the paint. We work on it every day in practice.”

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When Monmouth’s bench celebrated during the program’s first ever win over a Big East program, an 83-68 victory against Georgetown, by posing as “The Creation of Adam” painting by Michelangelo, the quality of their antics probably peaked.

It's hard for a celebration to outdo the creativity and execution in imitating one of the most famous art works ever.

But that doesn’t mean the Hawks were going to stop trying.

They continued to be rowdy on the far end of the Monmouth bench, dancing and howling with every positive moment of basketball from their teammates.

The first big moment of the night came in the form of a classic celebration. Junior forward Greg Noack played the part of a pitcher and tossed an imaginary pitch to sophomore guard Daniel Pillari, who took a swing and pretended to watch the ball fly into the distance.

Later on, in the spirit of the holiday season, the bench paid tribute to Santa Claus and his preferred means of transportation. Noack played the part of Saint Nicholas, while Pillari and freshman guard Tyler Robinson were his two trusted reindeer.

Finally, in honor of the recent release of the seventh installment of Star Wars — the most hyped movie in recent memory — Noack used the force to choke Pillari to the ground while Robinson and another member of the bench played out a lightsaber battle.

Another phenomenal display from the “best bench in college basketball,” according to t-shirts worn by numerous Monmouth fans seen at the RAC, may not have surpassed what transpired in the nation’s capital.

But the celebrations will surely be talked about on ESPN when the highlights of another Monmouth win play.

It was on the Worldwide Leader in Sports that freshman guard Corey Sanders first witnessed the theatrics of the Hawks’ bench.

When the final horn blew to indicate another Monmouth win in its surprising start, he made sure to acknowledge the most famous benchwarmers in college basketball and give them props for what they do.

“A couple of days (ago), I was watching TV and I was watching (Monmouth’s) game and they was on the bench doing crazy stuff,” Sanders said. “So when I seen the boys after the game, I said, ‘Y’all keep on doin’ what you’re doin', that’s entertainment and that’s what this game needs.’”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.


Brian Fonseca

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