FARMINGDALE — The Monmouth boys basketball team was down 10 points at halftime. And its best scorer was stuck on the bench in foul trouble.

Not an easy hole to climb out out of. But as the Mustangs proved, not an impossible one either.

Hayden Fletcher scored 17 points, Brock Bates added 12 and Monmouth earned one of its biggest wins of the season, rallying past Hall-Dale 59-56 Wednesday night.

The scoring leaders only told part of the story, as players like freshman Manny Calder, Cam Armstrong and Thomas Neal at guard and Ryan Burnham in the paint also played crucial roles in helping the Mustangs make up for a hindered Gabe Martin, who sat with his fourth foul with 1:12 left in the first period and didn’t return until just over five minutes were left in the game.

“You’ve got to play smart and hard every night to be successful in this league,” Monmouth coach Wade Morrill said. “And the fact that we did it with arguably one of our top players sitting on the bench for the majority of the night … We’ve been preaching all year, believe. It’s coming, it’s coming. You’ve just got to keep playing smart.”

The win took on an emotional note from a historical perspective as well.

“Three years ago, we lost by 61 here. Sixty-one points, when our seniors were freshmen. They were on varsity, Gabe and Brock were on that team, and they remember that,” Morrill said. “We went home that night realizing how far we were going to have to go to compete in this conference.”

They’re competing now, though it didn’t look pretty early. Martin’s foul trouble took the team out of its rhythm, and the Mustangs were down 25-15 at the break.

Then Monmouth’s supporting cast rose up to bring the Mustangs back. Burnham and Neal had quick baskets, Burnham got another, and Bates, battling foul trouble of his own, and Neal buried back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 27 with 5:14 to go.

That was only the start, as the game would be tied on eight more occasions, the last coming on a controversial moment. With Hall-Dale ahead 53-51 after a pair of Sam Sheaffer free throws, Josh Nadeau gathered the ball after a Monmouth turnover and missed a layup in transition. The referee called a technical foul on Nadeau as Armstrong gathered the rebound, and Fletcher went to the line for the ensuing free throws.

Hall-Dale coach Chris Ranslow said he didn’t ask about the call.

“When you lose your point guard in the last minute of the game, the texture of it changes,” he said. “But it’s everybody else’s responsibility, and it’s not a one-person game. It’s a team game. We’ve got 13 other players, and we couldn’t step up as a group.”

Fletcher, a sophomore, buried both to tie the game at 53 with 57.3 seconds left. Soon after, Armstrong was fouled while making a layup, and he too hit the free throw to put Monmouth ahead 56-53 with 50.4 seconds left.

“I didn’t realize it, I thought they called a timeout,” said Armstrong, who added nine rebounds. “And then he said ‘And one,’ so I was like ‘Okay, guess I’ve got to go to the line and stick it.’ ”

The Mustangs didn’t trail again, with Fletcher capping a big night with two more free throws that kept it a two-score game at 58-54 with 37.5 seconds to go.

The win was finally made official when Boden Washington’s off-balance three hit off the front rim as the buzzer sounded.

“We just tried to keep (ourselves) in the game, keep chipping away. Don’t ever give up,” Fletcher said. “With Brock out and Gabe out, it’s not like I had to do it all by myself, but I had to start something for the team.”

Morrill praised the effort from the team in bouncing back from Martin’s foul trouble, as well as Martin himself for coming back in ready to contribute. He hit a 3-pointer that put Monmouth ahead 51-49 with 3:28 left, and also assisted on Armstrong’s winning three-point play.

“I couldn’t say enough about our whole group tonight, the nine guys that we put in that game,” Morrill said. “And our young kids, talk about growing up.”

Rush added 10 rebounds for Hall-Dale, which also got 12 points from Washington, nine points from Max Byron and seven from Nadeau.

“I thought that we beat ourselves,” Ranslow said. “We didn’t come out with enough intensity and focus and tenacity in the third quarter. … We couldn’t contain defensively, we didn’t want any loose balls. We didn’t want anything extra.”


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