Better know a non-conference opponent: Monmouth


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Pitt men’s basketball will play Monmouth tonight at 7.

By Stephen Thompson, Assistant Sports Editor

On Monday night, Pitt men’s basketball will welcome the Monmouth University Hawks for its fourth non-conference game of the season, hoping to move its winning percentage back above .500. But outside the lines, there’s a lot to know about the Hawks, whose influence stretches from inches beyond the court all the way to the White House.

“The Big Catch,” “Human Scissors” and “Angry Birds.” What are these, skateboarding tricks? Yoga poses? No, just the names of some of the bench-mob celebrations that made the Monmouth University men’s basketball team famous.

During the 2015-16 college basketball season, members of the Hawks’ bench went viral for their exaggerated and creative celebrations on the sideline. And although this small private university has become famous for their moves on the sidelines, they also boast a gorgeous seaside campus in West Long Branch, New Jersey, which lends itself to a strong marine biology program. In fact, in 2015, the Hawks found themselves ranked in the top 30 beautiful campuses among American colleges according to Best Value Schools.

But even as the weather cools, Monmouth won’t fade from the public eye. The Monmouth campus also manages one of the premier political polling institutes in the United States.

Established in 2005, the Monmouth University Polling Institute has earned a reputation as one of the country’s most reputable polling institutes for it’s research in a variety of state and national elections. It’s earned an A+ rating from the polling website FiveThirtyEight, and director Patrick Murray is a regular on it’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in New Jersey Politics.

Monmouth basketball has also been making headlines recently, but for the wrong reasons. In last week’s game vs. No. 5 Kansas, as the Jayhawks were dribbling out the time remaining in a blowout, junior forward George Papas snuck behind and stole the ball from first-year guard Tristan Enaruna and dunked it as time expired. He then confronted Enaruna and appeared to yell expletives at him.

This transgression drew the ire of both fans at Allen Fieldhouse and even his own head coach, King Rice, who expressed his disappointment with Papas following the game.

“That is uncalled for,” Rice said. “That is not what our program represents, and is not what our program stands for. You get beat by a better team, you shake their hand and you walk off to court and you take in the experience.”

But one can understand where Papas’ fire came from. After falling in the MAAC title game a season ago, the experienced Hawks currently sit at 1-3 and have lost all three games by at least 19 points.

And after back-to-back blowouts at the hands of power conference opponents, the Hawks face another uphill battle when they visit the Panthers on Monday night.

That said, the Hawks will almost certainly not be intimidated by another power conference opponent. Their roster is laden with upperclassmen who have played in arenas like the Petersen Events Center, and as evidenced by Papas’ antics against Kansas, Monmouth has the moxie to stand its ground against a bigger, stronger opponent.

That confidence was likely only bolstered by the Panthers’ shocking loss to Nicholls State last Saturday. Not only do the Hawks have the attitude to pull out a win on Monday, but the tangible skills as well.

The Hawks are the fourth opponent to roll out a backcourt full of length that can make life hell for Pitt’s ball handlers. The Panthers’ primary ball-controlling guards, sophomores Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens, combine to average eight turnovers per game. That duo will have to keep their heads on straight in order to handle the Hawk’s guard defense, a skill they have not proven capable of through four games.

Panther defenders will also be challenged by the do-it-all junior forward Ray Salnave. The 6-foot-3 guard has taken a significant step forward from his already strong sophomore season. This season he is scoring 14 points per game, up three points from his average in 2019, and shoots 46% on 3-pointers, shattering last year’s mark of 30% from distance.

Pitt will finally get a respite from the dominating big men its faced so far this season, but this game should be seen as anything but a rest. The Panthers were embarrassed after Friday’s loss to rival West Virginia. Both teams will enter the Pete angry and eager to rewrite the script of their disappointing four game starts.

The Panthers and Hawks will tip off at 7 p.m. from Pittsburgh and their game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.

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