SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- On Selection Sunday last March, two of the biggest story lines involved the Syracuse Orange (in) and the Monmouth Hawks (out).
Syracuse, a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic Coast Conference team, justified the NCAA Tournament selection committee's decision to make the Orange a No. 10 seed by reaching the Final Four.
Monmouth, meanwhile, received a No. 1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament and is back to the drawing board this season as the Hawks seek their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006.
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In an early-season matchup that recalls the committee's controversial decision, Monmouth (1-1) will visit 18th-ranked Syracuse (2-0) on Friday night in a Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational game at the Carrier Dome. The five-team, round-robin tournament also includes South Carolina, South Carolina State and Holy Cross.
Syracuse thumped Holy Cross 90-46 Tuesday at the Dome after routing Colgate 83-55 to open the season.
After defeating Drexel 78-65 in its opener Nov. 11, Monmouth overcame an 18-point deficit against South Carolina to send the game into overtime Tuesday before losing 70-69 on a buzzer-beater.
Last season, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season champ Hawks became a mid-major media darling by playing 17 road games and 23 games away from home and beating Power Five teams Notre Dame, USC, Georgetown, UCLA and Rutgers. Ultimately, the selection committee couldn't ignore Monmouth's eye-popping losses to Canisius, Army and Manhattan.
Led by reigning MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson, Monmouth was selected to finish first in the MAAC this season in a poll of the league's coaches.
Against South Carolina, the Hawks trailed 40-22 before mounting a 27-8 run to briefly take the lead. In overtime, the Gamecocks' Duane Notice blocked Robinson's layup with eight seconds left, and PJ Dozier's 15-footer at the buzzer won it for South Carolina.
"We were in the right place, they got a lucky shot," Monmouth coach King Rice said immediately after the game. "All you have to do is watch (South Carolina's) reaction. They knew they were in a big-time fight. Their kids are tired, they all hugged me and said, 'Man, coach, your guys. Whoo!'"
While they struggled offensively for three-quarters of the game, the Hawks stayed close by making 23 of 27 foul shots and holding South Carolina to 33.8 percent shooting from the floor. Senior center Chris Brady recorded the second double-double of his career with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
The Orange steamrolled Holy Cross behind a 13-for-25 shooting effort from 3-point range. Fifth-year graduate senior transfer Andrew White sank all four of his shots from beyond the arc and led Syracuse with 19 points.
The Syracuse offense is directed by point guards Frank Howard and John Gillon, who have combined for 46 points, 27 assists and just five turnovers in two games.
"There is no answer if we are all hitting jumpers. and when you go to man-(to-man) you will get beaten that way, too," said Gillon, a fifth-year graduate senior transfer from Colorado State. "With our depth, our smarts and our athleticism, it is really hard to stop us."