Tuesday , Mar , 14 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

NCAA Tournament begins in Dayton with Monmouth and Hampton

(Sports Network) – Winners of the Northeast Conference Tournament, the
Monmouth Hawks find themselves in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament
in Dayton this evening, as they take on the Hampton Pirates, MEAC
Tournament champs, for the right to play top-seed Villanova in first-
round action from Philadelphia on Friday. No NEC team has won a first-
round NCAA Tournament game in 23 tries, so even with a victory tonight,
the Hawks certainly have their work cut out for them. Monmouth finished
the season with an 18-14 overall mark and posted an upset of
Fairleigh Dickinson in the conference tourney title game to advance.
It is Monmouth’s fourth all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament, having
failed to win a game in three previous trips.

The Pirates enter this event with a 16-15 overall mark, thanks to a
stunning run in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament, as the
sixth-seed had to win four games, including a surprising 60-56 victory over
Delaware State in the championship game. This marks the third all-time
appearance for Hampton in the Big Dance. The Hawks defeated the Pirates in
the 2004 Paradise Jam, in the only other meeting between these two

The team from West Long Branch, New Jersey is defensive-minded to a fault
sometimes. The Hawks are limiting foes to a mere 64 points per game this year
and thanks to their tough matchup zone, actually set the record for lowest
scoring output in the shot-clock era, by limiting Princeton to an anemic 21
points this season. The defense has to be a constant for Monmouth, because it
struggles at the offensive end. The Hawks rarely get hot from the floor, with
only Dejan Delic (12.1 ppg) posting a double-digit average on the year. Tyler
Azzarelli (8.9 ppg), Chris Kenny (8.5 ppg) and mammoth 7-2, 320-pound center
John Bunch (8.3 ppg) do what they can to support Delic.

The underachieving label has been heaped on the Pirates for a couple of years
now. Head coach Bobby Collins has struggled to return his team to prominence
in the MEAC, but this year’s improbable tournament run could be the start of a
rebirth in the league. Much like their opponent this evening, the Pirates play
the kind of stingy defense that keeps them competitive in just about every
game. The team led the MEAC in field-goal percentage defense (.398) and
rebounding (39.2 rpg) this year, as well as assists (12.4 apg). Four players
on the roster are currently averaging 9.9 ppg or better, led by 6-9 junior Jaz
Cowan (13.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg), who earned All-MEAC Second-Team honors. Senior
guard Jeff Granger (11.7 ppg) is another threat with his outside touch (67
three-pointers on the year). Bruce Brown (10.5 ppg) rounds out the double-
digit threats, while Rashad West (9.9 ppg) finished just below that mark,
coming off the bench primarily for this team.