Highlighted by a career-high 28 points from Jesse Steele (Milford, N.J./Oak Hill Academy), Ed Waite’s (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Pine Crest) double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Dion Nesmith’s (Union, N.J./Union) 14 points, the Monmouth University men’s basketball team defeated Fairleigh Dickinson 80-76 on Sunday afternoon in Northeast Conference action.
Monmouth, which connected on a season-best 27 free throws, went 27-for-32 from the line in the road victory, improved its record to 9-16 overall and 4-8 in the NEC. MU, which matched its largest comeback victory of the season, erasing a seven-point second half deficit, reached the 80-point plateau for the third time this year.
The Monmouth senior trio combined for 59 points, 19 rebounds and five assists and went 20-for-24 from the free throw line.
Steele, who tied a career-high with five three-pointers, went 8-of-16 overall and 5-for-9 from beyond the arc and 7-of-8 from the free throw line for his career-high total, with five rebounds and three assists. Waite registered his fifth career double-double and Nesmith, who went 10-for-11 from the line, added three rebounds and two assists.
“I am proud of Ed, Dion and Jesse for being the older guys on the team and really stepping up to lead us today,” stated head coach King Rice. “I am proud of all of our guys for making free throws down the stretch, and I hope that is going to jump start us to put a few together.”
The Hawks went in front 43-38 on Steele’s drive, but the Knights answered with a 10-0 run over 2:40 of action to claim a 48-43 edge with 14:06 left. Waite’s tip-in halted the streak for FDU, but a pair of three-pointers from Dylan Moody pushed the Knights ahead 54-47 with 11:58 remaining.
Monmouth responded with a 6-0 spurt to climb within 54-53, and reclaimed a lead, 57-56 on Steele’s two free throw makes with 6:53 left. After the lead changed hands four times over the next three minutes, the Knights tied the game at 64-64 on Melquan Bolding’s tip-in with 3:36 left.
MU answered with a 7-2 spurt, punctuated by Stephen Spinella’s (Colts Neck, N.J./Apex Academy) dunk, to take a 73-68 edge with 54 seconds left, but FDU clawed within 77-76 on Mustafaa Jones’ three-pointer with 26.3 ticks left.
After Nesmith’s free throw gave the Hawks a 78-76 advantage two seconds later, FDU’s Lonnie Robinson missed a pair of charity shots and Spinella was able to coral the rebound and was subsequently fouled. Spinella, who ended with six points, seven rebounds and three assists, drilled both free throws to seal the win for Monmouth with 3.2 remaining.
“I thought it was a hard-fought game today and give Fairleigh Dickinson a lot of credit," Rice said. "They have had some injuries and have lost some tough games, and they came out and fought extremely hard. I am really proud of my kids because we did the same thing. We continued to stay together. Those were the things on the board today – team toughness, team togetherness and have fun, and I think they accomplished all three of those.”
Consecutive three-point trips gave the Knights an early 6-2 advantage before Steele’s first three-pointer made the score 9-7 in favor of FDU with 17:08 showing. After Tyrone O'Garro's (Newark, N.J./Saint Peter’s Prep) drive knotted the score at 9-9 26 seconds later, the Knights used a 10-3 spurt to lead 19-12 following a pair of Kinu Rochford foul shots at 10:31.
FDU led by seven two more times, including 24-17 after Xavier Harris’ lay-in, but the Hawks retaliated with a 12-4 streak, capped by Nesmith’s three-point play and Steele’s trey, to give MU its first lead since it was 2-0, 29-28, with 3:32 showing.
The Knights went back in front by one after a pair of free throws from Mathias Seilund, before the Hawks ended the stanza on a 7-2 run, which included another Steele trifecta, two Nesmith foul shots and Spinella’s follow-up slam to give Monmouth a 36-32 lead at the break.
MU pushed its lead to a game-high six points out of the locker room following Steele’s fast break lay-up and claimed a 41-35 advantage after Waite’s three-point play with 18:19 showing.
Max DiLeo (Cinnaminson, N.J./Cinnaminson), who hit a pair of foul shots to give MU a 71-66 lead with 1:03 remaining, posted six points and three rebounds.
The Knights, who hit 11 three’s, including seven in the second half, were led by Bolding’s 20 points, while Sekou Harris added 13 and Rochford registered 12 points and nine boards. FDU, which connected on 19-of-25 free throws, falls to 7-18 overall and 2-10 in the NEC.
Monmouth returns to action on Thursday, Feb. 14, when the Hawks face LIU Brooklyn in Northeast Conference action in the MAC at 7 p.m.