Former Bench Mob Star Pillari Leads Monmouth On The Court

ALBANY, N.Y. — The Monmouth Hawks coasted to victory in their quarterfinal meeting with Niagara Friday night at the Times Union Center, but their easy win may have come at a costly price.

Louie Pillari was perfect from the field during an impressive first half

Four minutes into the second half, Niagara’s Kahlil Dukes undercut a Je’lon Hornbeak pass intended for Micah Seaborn along the left sideline. Seaborn, who has been playing for some time hobbled by a left knee injury, came to a sudden stop and crumpled to the court.

“Micah’s been playing with a torn meniscus,” head coach King Rice said after the game. “It was before our second Rider game when it happened. He’s a kid who just wants to play basketball. He won’t take any time off. I think he just re-aggravated it. We’re hopeful with the day off he’ll be back and ready to go on Sunday.”

The sophomore and all-MAAC First Team member was helped off the hardwood by teammates Hornbeak and Josh James. He will undergo testing to determine the extent of the injury, but is questionable for Sunday’s semifinal.

Monmouth gained national notoriety last season for the antics of its bench mob, but it was one of those former rabble-rousers who ended up having the most significant impact on the court in their 84-59 victory over Niagara Friday night.

Redshirt freshman Louie Pillari poured in a career-high 16 points to lead all scorers for the game. The New Jersey native was a perfect 3-3 from the field including a pair of 3-pointers and 6-6 from the charity stripe in the first half.

“Louie is a dynamic scorer,” Rice said. “He has earned a lot of minutes. You guys are going to see a lot of him in the future. Louie can play more minutes, he’s earned it, and I’m just glad that he’s on my team because that was awesome what he did in that first half.”

Monmouth’s Justin Robinson, named repeat MAAC Player of the Year earlier the day, endured a slow start but finished the night with 14 points on 5-10 shooting. The Hawks’ star was yanked after a pair of turnovers just three minutes into the game and didn’t return to the court until nearly five minutes later.

“We started out not playing like ourselves in the first three minutes,” Robinson said. “Really the first minute and a half, then coach Rice sat me down. I come back in and coach Rice looks at me and says ‘are you good?’ and I was like ‘yeah, I’m fine.’ I got an opportunity to put one up and from there on out, I just played relaxed.”

Senior leader Justin Robinson got off to a sluggish start Friday night

Robinson was eventually lifted for good with over ten minutes remaining in the contest, as Monmouth had built a 20-point lead and with the image of Seaborn hobbling off the court fresh in the mind of Rice.

Niagara’s Chris Barton, who 24 hours earlier had embraced the challenge involved in guarding Robinson, provided a valiant effort when faced with the task. Though Robinson put together a double-digit night, he was held scoreless with Barton on the floor opposite him.

“I have to watch the tape, but he did some really good things defensively I thought,” Casey said of Barton. “He [Robinson] was a little shorter in the amount of minutes that he played, but I thought overall we did a pretty decent job of making his looks tough.”

Chris Brady and Austin Tilghman joined Pillari and Robinson as Hawks to finish in double figures. Brady was unstoppable in the first half, where he nabbed 11 of his 13 total points. Tilghman, named MAAC Sixth Man of the Year just before Robinson accepted his Player of the Year honor, added 10.

With his first basket of the night – a layup 1:54 after the opening tip – the Hawks’ Hornbeak joined the 1,000 point club. The senior had previously played two seasons at the University of Oklahoma before transferring to Monmouth.

Sophomore forward Dominic Robb led Niagara with 12 points, while Barton added 11. Dukes and freshman James Towns each added 10 for the Purple Eagles.

Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.