NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- In a classic back-and-forth matchup that went down to the wire at the Monroe Athletic Complex, the Monroe College men's basketball team came out on top, 60-59, over Harcum College Thursday evening, claiming the No. 1 seed for next weekend's Regional Championship Tournament. The Mustangs improve to 19-10 with the win, while Harcum drops to 21-8 on the year.
The Mustangs honored their six sophomores prior to Thursday's contest in a Sophomore Day ceremony at center court. Christopher Burkley, Damont Kearse, Jhery Matos, Clifton Tracey, Bryan Assie and Andre Morgan were all joined by family, teammates, friends and coaches as they were thanked for their contributions to the men's basketball program and Monroe College.
The Mustangs got off to a strong start, taking a 4-0 lead after a Deins Bergis free throw and a three by Damont Kearse. Harcum then went on an 8-2 run, taking an 8-6 lead at the 14:51 mark. Harcum went on to take an 11-8 lead before Clythus Griffith drained back-to-back threes, followed by one more from Clifton Tracey, putting Monroe up, 17-11.
The Mustangs led, 20-15, before Harcum quickly closed the gap with a five-point run. Harcum later took a 22-21 lead after a pair of free throws from Hafeez Melvin, but the Mustangs took it back when Griffith made two of his own. Myron Gordon threw one down for Harcum to put them back on top, but a free throw by Andre Morgan tied the game once again. After two scoreless minutes at the end of the frame, Griffith nailed a three at the buzzer, giving the Mustangs a 27-24 advantage heading into the break.
Both teams opened the second half trading baskets until the Mustangs scored five in a row, including a three by Jhery Matos, to take a 37-30 lead at the 14:40 mark. Harcum then scored nine straight points to go up, 39-37. Damont Kearse came right back up the court and drained a three, but a Michael Okafor layup put Harcum back up, 41-40.
Matos fired back with a layup through a foul, and completed the three-point play to put the Mustangs back up by two. Myron Gordon then hit a three for Harcum to take the lead right back. Tracey then tied the game by making 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, and moments later, Matos was sent to the line, where he made both to put the Mustangs up, 46-44.
Okafor then sank a three for the Bears, putting them in the lead once again. Hafeez Melvin then made another long ball for the Bears, giving them a four-point advantage, their largest of the game. With the Mustangs down by four again a few minutes later, Matos kicked off a Monroe run with a layup. Tracey then put one in off the glass to tie the game with 5:31 to play.
After more than two minutes without any points for either team, Bryan Assie got himself to the line, where he made both to give the Mustangs a two-point lead. That lead quickly disappeared when Gordon made a layup to make it a 54-54 game with 2:50 on the clock. Charles Humphries then gave Harcum the lead with a layup of his own, but Jhery Matos came back with two points to tie it up at 56-56 with 1:34 left.
Gordon earned a three-point play after making a layup while getting fouled and making the ensuing free throw to put the Bears up by three. Jhery Matos then made an isolation jumper to get Monroe back within two. The Bears brought the ball back up the court, waiting until there were 10 seconds on the shot clock and 28.8 on the game clock to call a timeout. After the timeout, the Mustangs locked down and forced a tough shot out of Myron Gordon. Assie went up for the rebound, and was fouled as he secured it, sending him to the line for a 1-and-1 with a chance to tie the game, and then take the lead.
After the Mustangs hushed the crowd, Assie made the first chance to stir up the Mustang fans once again. The crowd went silent again as he lined up with a chance to give the Mustangs the lead, and his shot went straight through the hoop to give Monroe a 60-59 lead with 17 seconds left.
Harcum came down the field looking for an open chance, but was not able to find a shot, forcing the Bears to take a timeout with just four seconds on the clock. The inbound went to Gordon, who threw up a contested shot that clanked off the rim, allowing time to expire and close out the Mustang victory.
Matos finished with a game-high 21 points, narrowly missing a double-double with nine rebounds and adding four assists and three steals. Assie finished with seven points and a game-best 14 rebounds. Griffith contributed 11 points with a trio of three-pointers.
The Mustangs will finish off the regular season on the road on Saturday, Feb. 24, when they visit Region XV foe ASA College at St. Joseph's College – Brooklyn. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m.