Monmouth brings flair, talent to face Georgetown

WASHINGTON — Monmouth is a small private university of roughly 6,000 students in West Long Branch, New Jersey, just a few blocks off the Atlantic Ocean, 20 miles south as the crow flies from Manhattan. Until a few weeks ago, it was perhaps best known for its polling center, the one Donald Trump claimed to have never heard of until he cited it in a tweet Monday morning.

The university has a couple handfuls of fraternities and sororities. It has a sailing club. It has a Jersey Mike’s.

And now, it has the most exciting squad in college hoops, down to the last man on the bench, a Cinderella crafted perfectly for the Internet age.

If you’re a college basketball fan, you may have heard about that Monmouth bench. Their choreographed, over-the-top celebrations of their teammates on-court accomplishments during games make for perfect viral video fodder. They have been notable enough for the mongers of allowable fun, the NCAA, to publicly scrutinize them before eventually allowing their theatrics to continue unpunished.

In case you’ve missed them so far, here’s a taste.

There’s the “big catch,” where one mimics a dead fish in two teammates’ arms while a fourth snaps a photo. The “pirate ship,” where players sit in a line and row. The “human hoop,” where one dunks into the others’ encircled arms as he’s being held up. Per Adam Kilgore’s piece in The Washington Post, the group has 13-15 moves ready for each game, and is constantly inventing new ones.

This all might still be funny and entertaining if Monmouth was a bottom feeder of college hoops, celebrating the few good moments of a mediocre season. But the reason the Hawks have garnered this attention isn’t just because of the rehearsed bench antics. It’s also because they’re winning.

After dispatching a Wagner team that came in riding a five-game winning streak by 19 points on Sunday, Monmouth is now 6-3 on the young season. That record is even more impressive considering that the win over Wagner came in the Hawks’ first home game of the season after eight road/neutral court contests, an accepted burden as a small conference team in Metro Atlantic Athletic Association.

Their next stop? The Verizon Center Tuesday night, where they will square off with Georgetown (tip at 7:30 p.m.). The visit to Washington starts another four-game road trip, as the Hawks will not return home again until after the New Year for their next conference game.

But despite the road-heavy slate, Monmouth has thrived. The Hawks opened the season with an 84-81 overtime stunner over UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. They took down a Notre Dame team that reached the Elite Eight last year on a neutral floor in the Advocare Invitational in Florida, their first win over a ranked team in school history. And they later avenged a road loss at USC by knocking off the Trojans in the same invitational.

The Hawks have never made it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Marquette (1996), Duke (2001), Mississippi State (2004) and Villanova (2006) by an average of 28 points in those contests. They’re in a conference with a tough Iona squad, and will likely need to win their conference tournament to find a spot in the NCAA Tournament. But the Hawks could bolster an already strong case for an at-large bid with another big victory in D.C. Tuesday evening.

The numbers match the hype. has the Hawks ranked as the 81st-strongest team in the nation, above SEC teams like Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. Monmouth’s adjusted defensive efficiency is 53rd, better than Georgetown’s (59th). Make no mistake — the Hoyas are still better on paper, not to mention much bigger, but Monmouth is more talented than the UNC Wilmington team that pushed Georgetown this weekend, and far more so than the Radford squad that upset them to open the year.

Speaking of Georgetown, the Hoyas (6-3) are likely in for more than they bargained for when they scheduled Monmouth to come play them. The home squad had better be ready, lest they find themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard, and the celebrations.

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