PISCATAWAY, N.J - Monmouth is the hottest college team in New Jersey right now.
But the way the Hawks are playing this season, being one of the best teams in the Garden State may not be satisfying enough.
Monmouth knocked off Rutgers, 73-67, at the Louis Brown Athletic Center for their fifth win over a Power 5 conference school this season, and their first-ever victory over a Big Ten outfit. The Hawks (8-3) have beaten UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, Georgetown and now Rutgers (4-7).
"We felt like we had a good team, but you could never expect something like this to happen, truly," said Monmouth coach King Rice, whose team is now 5-1 against major conference opponents.
Monmouth picked up a vote in the AP Top 25 Poll at the end of November, but was upset by Canisius just days later.
Rice refused to speculate about another chance at cracking the Top 25 after defeating Rutgers on Sunday after they won at Georgetown on Tuesday.
"I wish we would stop talking about that," Rice said. "We're not in December yet. If we're supposed to be in the top 25, we'll get there. We're a group that wants to keep working. These are young ears. When young dudes here that, they start thinking they're cool and stop being as sharp."
The Hawks were far from sharp in their victory against Rutgers. Monmouth, which entered the game with the second highest free-throw percentage in the nation (82 percent), shot just 55 percent from the line.
An ally-oop from Justin Robinson to Collin Stewart with 11:32 sucked the life out of exuberant crowd in Piscataway. It capped a 15-3 run and gave the Hawks a 13-point lead.
It looked as if Monmouth would run away, but Rutgers responded with a 10-0 run with 5:52 remaining. The Scarlet Knights would eventually tie the game with 1:32. For Robinson, memories from last season's New Jersey showdown with Rutgers resurfaced when the Hawks lost to the Scarlet Knights on a buzzer beater by Myles Mack.
This time was different. Chris Brady gave the Hawks the lead and then Monmouth knocked down four of its final five three throws to seal the victory.
"This one feels a little more special to me just because of what happened last year," Robinson said. "We lost on a buzzer beater last year so that was our who thing this year - it wasn't happening again.
Robinson finished with 14 points and two assists. Josh James added eight points and four rebounds off the bench. He made a nifty and-1 layup in the second half, which prompted Dan Pillari of the "Monmouth Bench Mob" to hit the ground and pretend to bench press.
The Bench Mob also debuted their Star Wars celebration where Louie Pillari and Greg Noack pretended to joust with lightsabers. The crew also did their best Rudolph impression when Tyler Robinson and Dan Pillari got on their knees and pretended to be reindeer as Noack played Santa and directed the duo.
The Bench Mob - made of cousins Louie and Dan Pillari, Noack and Robinson - has received national attention for their sideline celebrations this season. The four teammates were featured on The Today Show yesterday morning.
While the team has gained a lot of attention for their theatrics off the court, they have made as much noise for their performance on it.
For Rutgers, it's been a much different story.
The Scarlet Knights have now dropped six of their last seven last games. They have lost by an average of 16 points per game during the seven-game stretch.
But Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said he was pleased with his team's effort as a 10-point underdog against Monmouth.
"I told my team, 'your effort and your harmony was at an all-time season high,'" he said. "We look for the silver lining. There's a silver lining behind the dark clouds."