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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hawks season at SOS stage/ my column for Thursday Press

Note to blog readers: I'll have more on today's practice and an interview with Mike Shipman coming up on the blog later this eveneing


So here's the Press column:

It has come to this.

I was asked Wednesday in reference to the skidding Monmouth University men's basketball
team, "Is Monmouth going to make the NEC (Northeast Conference) Tournament?"
It's startling, even unbelievable to see Monmouth (7-12, 2-5), the standard bearer for
NEC success, slumped in 10th place in the 11-team league, two slots out of the last post
season playoff berth.

How did this three-game home stand, which begins tonight vs. an even more reeling
St. Francis, Pa. (4-16, 1-8) team, turn into an SOS - Save Our Season - weekend?

It was generally assumed that, despite the graduation of four-year back court bell
weathers Chris Kenny and Tyler Azzarelli, Monmouth would make up for the lack of
experience with the superior athletic ability of sophomores Mike Shipman and Whitney
Coleman who had shown much promise as freshmen.

And now you throw in exciting freshman Jhamar Youngblood and you're all set. Right?

Not exactly. With some exceptions Shipman and Coleman, though valuable reserves last
season, weren't really depended on to make crucial plays. And Youngblood was in high
school.

Now throw all three into the fire, eliminate Shipman for seven games this season
with academic problems and ask Youngblood, talented as he is, to play a position - point
guard - where he's never played in his life.

Now ask them all, including last year's seldom used Alex Nunner, to perform like
veterans on a four-game road trip.

Well, you saw what happened. Four straight NEC defeats, the team's longest league
nose dive since that infamous 0-19 start in 1998-99.

But the seeds for the the four game debacle were hardly planted in just one area, it
was a team effort.


The Monmouth club that played with efficiency during its four-game winning streak at
home prior to the trip was maddeningly erratic at both ends of the floor.

It suffered critically-timed turnovers and hurried shots that, in particular,
wrecked it at Central Connecticut and St. Francis, N.Y.

No one, not one player, and this is a team with four seniors in the front court, was
able to step into the breach to settle things down.

And another factor has reared a troubling head. The Hawks, at least lately, can't
score.

They averaged just over 53 points per game on the road trip, in part because somehow
7-2 senior John Bunch disappeared, and 6-10 senior Corey Hallett has just never clicked
on offense.

After Bunch's success last season teams are now swarming him as soon as he touches
the ball. "We wanted to smother him,'' said CCSU coach Howie Dickenman.

It appears Bunch needs to make quicker decisions to shoot or pass, because when he
he brings the ball down or dribbles, it's stolen.

And finally, senior Marques Alston, more than he has this season, needs to demand
the ball in crucial situations.

So, can the season be saved and to what extent?.

Shipman has returned after his academic hiatus and enigmatic but talented freshman
forward/center Rickie Crews is available.

Certainly an NEC Tournament berth is still within reach, and finishing in the top
four, to earn at least one playoff home game, is not out of the question.

But Monmouth needs to turn things around now. Time is beginning to run out.

e-mail tonygsports@aol.com.

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