WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. -- Little Monmouth University earned
a spot in the NCAA tournament with strong defense and a big game
from a point guard whose GPA is higher than his scoring average.
Sophomore Tyler Azzarelli scored a career-high 19 points, and
the top-seeded Hawks held Central Connecticut State to 32.3-percent
shooting in a 67-55 victory Wednesday night in the Northeast
Conference championship game.
"He's had games where he only scored two points and he has been
just as fabulous as he was tonight," Monmouth coach Dave Calloway
said of Azzarelli. "Tonight we needed him to score and do some
different things and he did that, too."
Azzarelli was 7-of-9 from the field and 4-of-5 from the line in
helping the Hawks (21-11) overcome a sub-par night by star forward
Blake Hamilton, who was limited to 10 points.
"I have been struggling offensive as far as scoring all year,"
said Azzarelli, whose 3.4 scoring average is lower than his 3.8
grade point index at the 3,500-student school.
"I just think tonight is a tribute to our firepower. They
extended out and that created some lanes and gave me some open
looks and I was able to convert them."
Monmouth, which last went to the NCAA tournament in 2001,
allowed only one 30-plus point half in three conference tournament
games. Central Connecticut (14-14) got 35 in the second half, most
in garbage time.
Now comes the hard part, making something happen in the NCAA
The NEC has posted the worst record in the NCAA tournament
history, winning one of 24 games. Robert Morris got the win,
beating Georgia Southern in a play-in game in 1983.
"People need to realize we are not a pushover team," said
Hamilton, who averaged 16.8 points in finishing second to Ron
Robinson of Central Connecticut in the league's player of the year
vote. "We worked hard all year to get this achievement. We deserve
to be recognized."
The rest of the Hawks bailed Hamilton out against the
seventh-seeded Blue Devils of New Britain.
"We did a good job on Blake Hamilton," said Central
Connecticut coach Howie Dickenman after the Blue Devils lost for
only the fourth time in 12 games. "Sometimes the guys you least
expect. It proved true tonight."
Azzarelli, whose career high was 13 last season, had not scored
more than 10 in any game this season.
Monmouth coach Dave Calloway said he went to Jacksonville, Fla.,
to recruit another guard when someone told him about Azzarelli, a
Calloway saw Azzarelli play and told him he liked him. But he
had the other Florida player scheduled to visit the school in two
Azzarelli came in the next week.
"It was a done deal in about a week and a half and it has been
terrific for Monmouth," Calloway said.
Not only was it terrific, it got the Hawks back to the show
Bulky center Brian Boxler, who was scoreless in the first half,
hit three baskets early in the second half, and Jason Krayl and
Chris Kenny added 3-pointers to push the lead to 42-29.
Central Connecticut State, which was looking to become the
lowest seed to win the conference tournament and the first to knock
off the top three seeds, never got closer than seven points in the
Azzarelli hit a free throw and Hamilton added two more with 27
seconds to go, bringing the sold out crowd of 2,500 fans to their
feet in anticipation.
At the buzzer, the students stormed the floor.
The rush came seconds after a frustrated Justin Chiera of
Central Connecticut shoved Brandon Owens to the floor on a fast
break. Nothing nasty developed.
Robinson finished with 12 points, but only two in the second
half. Rich Pittman led Central Connecticut State with 16. Both had