MONMOUTH — Who knew free throw shooting could be contagious?

Though Monmouth Academy struggled from the foul line for much of the night Monday, the Mustangs came to life in the final quarter. Monmouth hit the free throws when it needed them most to pull away from Georges Valley, 44-36.

The Mustangs hit 19-of-22 from the foul line in the fourth. With just a two-point advantage entering the final quarter, Robbie Neal’s four straight opened the lead up. That put Monmouth in the driver’s seat. Though the Bucs constantly battled back, the Mustangs hit the freebies down the stretch to seal it.

Neal finished with 13 points, including 11 free throws. Ryan Baillargeon also scored 13, with two 3-pointers and seven free throws. Roger Bachelder added seven and did a nice job in the paint.

“We just hit a couple and it took the pressure off the other guys,” said Neal, who had 10 free throws in the fourth.

Ben Wallace led the Bucs (3-5) with 11 points, including back-to-back threes that put a scare into the Mustangs late in the fourth. That made it 39-36 before free throws by Neal and one by Corey Dyke finished it off. Ketch Cowan added nine while Logan Cross chipped in eight.

The win bounced the Mustangs (5-3) up to fifth in Western C while the Bucs drop to eighth.

“On any given night, it seems like we’re all so even in the MVC South that anything can happen,” said Monmouth coach Lucas Turner. “If we play these guys 10 times, it probably goes 50-50.”

Monmouth opened the game with a 7-0 run and had the lead through the first three quarters, despite hitting just 5-of-14 free throws in three quarters. Georges Valley stayed close and made it 21-19 after three. Monmouth managed just four points and shot 1-for-13 from the floor in the third.

The abundance of whistles in the game proved to benefit the Mustangs. Neal hit four straight free throws to begin the fourth to build a 25-19 lead.

“That took it from a tight game where anybody can win this to statistically where we have the advantage,” said Turner. “The intensity of it was a little down for us, and we just had to execute and get out of here.”

A rebound by Elliott Kahl and a free throw by Tim Whitmore made it 28-20. The Mustangs hit 17 of their first 19 from the line.

“We’ve been due for some good free-throw shooting,” said Turner, who said his team’s shooting percentage from the line hasn’t been good. “We work every day on  them and spend 15 to 20 minutes on free throws.”

After a pair by Baillargeon and one from Dye with 2:51, the lead was up to 33-22, but the Bucs had some fight left in them. A 3-pointer by Cowan and a rebound by Dean Cline quickly made it a five-point game. Four free throws by Baillargeon made it 37-27, but Wallace drained a pair of 3s to make it 37-33 with 47 seconds left.

After two Neal free throws, Cross hit another 3-pointer to make it 39-36 with 21 seconds remaining before Neal calmly sank another pair. Dyke and Neal added three more from the line to ice it.

“We just had to keep our composure,” said Neal. “I think we did okay. I just think I shoot well under pressure. I don’t feel the pressure. I just play and play my game.”

Though Monmouth struggled offensively at times, its scrappy defense made life miserable for the Bucs. Georges Valley couldn’t get an offensive flow going for much of the game, shooting 8-for-37 in three quarters with about 20 total turnovers. Most of the Bucs offense came from the perimeter as Monmouth did a nice job defending the paint and boxing out on the defensive glass.

“Our defense helped us a lot,” said Neal. “That’s what kept us in the game.”

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