With moments along the way like Darrick Suber and “The Shot” and Monmouth’s improbable comeback in Trenton, the history of what started as the ECAC Metro Championship Game is a rich one.
The 2012 NEC Tournament program celebrated that rich past, in particular two moments from the 1990s, one of which unfolded in Brooklyn, which will be the site of the 31st annual NEC men’s title tilt come Wednesday night, March 7, 2012.
Here are the two stories electronically re-published from the original print version.
THE IMPROBABLE-PROBABLE HEROES
Not once, but twice did Monmouth benefit from last-minute heroics during its 1996 NEC championship run.
As Dave Calloway points out, there wouldn’t have been a second episode of valiancy in the NEC Tournament title tilt had the improbable not occurred one game earlier in the semifinal round.
Monmouth, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, had lost only three NEC games all season, two of which were against Marist.
As fate would have it, there was Marist waiting for the Hawks in the NEC semifinals. Up by five points with 30 seconds left, it looked as if the Red Foxes would complete the season sweep and move onto the finals.
Then, Monmouth guard John Giraldo, who scored three points over the game’s first 39:30, hit one from way downtown.
“No exaggeration, Giraldo pulled up a good 10 feet behind the three-point line and drained one with about 23 seconds left,” remembered Calloway, who was looking on from the bench as an assistant coach to Wayne Szoke at the time.
As Calloway explained, the biggest play was yet to come.
“We trapped then on the subsequent inbound and quickly fouled Alan Tomidy. He made one of two [free throws] and we got the ball back down three,” detailed Calloway, who would eventually take the head coaching reins from Szoke two years later.
Monmouth faced a 56-53 deficit in the waning seconds, but luckily the Hawks had a man named Mustafa Barksdale on the floor.
“He’s the only guy I ever saw score 17 straight points in a game. I’m not talking about 17 straight points for Monmouth, I’m saying 17 points in a row without the other team scoring. He did it with five three’s and a steal and a dunk,” said Calloway.
With fewer than 20 ticks left, there wasn’t time for five three’s and a dunk, but Monmouth didn’t need 17 straight points.
The Hawks needed only three, and Barksdale gave them four.
“We ran a play for Mustafa and he read the defender perfectly. He popped into the corner, nailed a three and got hit on the arm,” said Calloway.
The ensuing free throw completed the four-point play with eight seconds remaining on the clock and the Hawks hung on for the 57-56 victory.
It’s not every day one completes a four-point play, nevermind doing so in a game of such magnitude. Even radio personalities Mike Francesa and Chris Russo didn’t believe what they were hearing at first.
The two hosts, who did not see the play (this was before YouTube in case you were wondering), began chattering about it the day after on a Monday afternoon episode of their renown “Mike and the Mad Dog” radio show.
After a couple of callers bit on the topic, one being Monmouth play-by-play man Dave Popkin, Mike and the Dog were able to get the hero himself, Mustafa Barksdale on the air.
“Mustafa was great,” remembered Calloway. “He had the perfect personality for something like that. In fact, I remember him mentioning that he would hop eto be back on after the upcoming Championship Game for an episode of the ‘Mike, Mad Dog, and Mustafa Show.’”
Of course, all the hype would have faded away had Monmouth not closed the deal in the title game.
“The biggest thing was that we were able to win the next game, too. That added to Mustafa’s moment,” said Calloway.
In fact, the coach used a rather familiar analogy for American sports fans.
“I’m not saying it was nearly of the same importance and magnitude, but you can compare it to the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team. It was amazing that the USA beat the Russians. That is what everyone always remembers, but would they have remembered it if the USA had not go onto beat Sweden and take the Gold?” Calloway questioned.
Well, they would need Quincy Lee’s last-second free throws to do it, but the Hawks finished the deal against Rider in the final.
“We were down one with four seconds left and Quincy Lee got fouled while taking it to the basket,” recalled Calloway.
“He hit them both and Deon Hames missed a halfcourt heave, that was right on line but a little long, at the buzzer.”
Thanks to Lee, Barksdale four-point play didn’t go down in history as an odd occurrence that happened once in the NEC Tournament. Instead, it went down as the one of the more incredible pieces of a championship run.
BROOKLYN’S BIG CITY HERO
Corey Albano’s 33 points and 21 rebounds in the 1997 NEC Championship Game still represent one of the top double-double performances in 30-plus years of NEC hoops history.
“Two things I remember were Spike Lee being up in the balcony and Corey Albano. Corey Albano was unreal,” said Dave Calloway, former Monmouth player and head coach who was an assistant to Wayne Szoke at the time.
Albano’s performance certainly hasn’t been forgotten, but it isn’t remembered as much as it should be because of what one Charles Jones pulled off in the final minute of that 1997 title tilt.
Jones, the 1997 NCAA scoring champion, made a habit of outshining opponents.
“He was one of those that could take over a game,” said Calloway. “He was just that good.”
On this particular night, Calloway watched him victimize the Hawks for 21 points, the last two of which he scored in style to put the game away for all intents and purposes.
With his Blackbirds clinging to a 68-67 lead and 35 seconds remaining in regulation, Jones had the ball in between the circles. With about 29 seconds left, he made his move.
“His opponents knew what was coming, but he was just too quick to defend,” said Greg Fox, who was the Blackbirds’ press officer at the time and now serves as a senior administrator for the athletic department.
As Fox went onto describe, “He made a clean crossover and got around the Monmouth defender [Mustafa Barksdale] and slithered his way to the rim. It wasn’t an easy layup, but Charles made the tough finish.”
The play is available on the in the “Flashbacks” section of the NEC’s YouTube page, but if you haven’t seen it, just envision something from an “And1 Mixtape.”
“It was an utterly terrific move,” marveled Fox. “It was not surprising though because that’s what Charles did. He made moves like that.”
Two-time NCAA scoring champ Charles Jones (above)
The Schwarz Athletic Center, aka the old Brooklyn Paramount Theatre, was in a frenzy as the Blackbirds had a three-point lead and were seconds away from the Big Dance. Although it may have felt that way to Fox, the game technically wasn’t over yet.
Coming out of a timeout, Monmouth went for a quick two-point bucket, but Giedrius Aidietis couldn’t convert. LIU’s Richie Parker pulled down the rebound and hit a pair of subsequent free throws with five seconds to play to ice the 72-67 victory.
“Corey Albano had a truly heroic performance that night, but Charles made that play,” said Fox taking one last glance back at the game.
That play not only appeared on SportsCenter that night, but the 1997 documentary “Soul in the Hole” also incorporated the clip into the end of the film.
Thanks to his “killer crossover,” Jones made an appearance in Hollywood and, more importantly, his Blackbirds were making an appearance at the Big Dance.