WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. -- Micah Seaborn hit two free throws with five seconds left, and Monmouth scored their final 10 points at the foul line to outlast Bucknell 79-78 in a wild season opener on Friday night at OceanFirst Bank Center. Zach Thomas set career highs with 31 points and 16 rebounds for the Bison, who battled back from 13 points down in the second half to take the lead on several occasions late.
There were eight lead changes and five ties in the final 6:30 of the game, with five of the lead changes coming in the last 1:09. Thomas had just given the Bison a 78-77 advantage with a drive to the basket with 30 seconds left. Monmouth put the ball in the hands of Seaborn, who spun into the lane and had the ball knocked away by Thomas, but the Bison were whistled for a foul going for the loose ball.
Seaborn hit the two charity tosses -- he was 10-for-13 at the line while scoring a team-high 21 points -- and then a contested jumper by Kimbal Mackenzie was off the mark as the buzzer sounded.
Nana Foulland scored 15 points and Stephen Brown added 11 points and six assists for the Bison, who did much of their damage from long distance. They hit 13 3-pointers in 33 attempts, including 9-for-18 in the second half after a cold start.
A 3-pointer by Pierre Sarr on the first possession of the second half gave Monmouth its largest lead of 13 points at 44-31. Bucknell cut it to six on a couple of occasions, but the Hawks kept stretching the margin back out as Seaborn, center Diago Quinn (16 points) and freshman reserve Deion Hammond (13) continued to make tough shots.
Bucknell finally started to string together some defensive stops with about 11 minutes to go and used a 17-5 run to flip a 59-50 deficit into a 67-64 lead with 5:47 remaining. Thomas, Brown, Avi Toomer, Bruce Moore and Jimmy Sotos all canned treys during that surge. The last two – from Moore and Sotos on consecutive possessions – came on Foulland kick-out passes and gave Bucknell its first lead since it was 13-11.
The game would be played within a single possession the rest of the way. After Quinn scored with a dunk and two free throws to put Monmouth ahead 71-69, the Bison got layups from Thomas and Brown to get back in front.
Ray Salnave tied it with two free throws, and then after a Bison turnover, Seaborn was fouled in transition and hit two more at the line to give Monmouth a 75-73 lead with 1:09 left. At the other end, Foulland outjumped everyone for an offensive rebound and put it back while drawing a foul. He made the free throw to put the Bison back in front and put the game on an odd-numbered margin.
Two Seaborn foul shots sent the Hawks ahead 77-76, and then Thomas drove down the lane, got stripped, but recovered and laid the ball in for a 78-77 Bucknell lead. Monmouth drained the clock inside 10 seconds, and Toomer had Seaborn blanketed as he spun in the lane. Thomas came in to help and poked the ball loose, but as the ball rolled away the foul was whistled.
Seaborn hit the two go-ahead free throws, accentuating a big difference in accuracy from the foul line in the game. Monmouth finished 24-for-30 after missing its first four of the night, while Bucknell was just 7-for-17.
“Obviously there were a lot of areas where we needed to execute better tonight, but one of the best qualities of this team is that these guys will fight to the end and never give up,” said head coach Nathan Davis. “Monmouth is a very good team, and you need to play really well to come in here and beat them. The fact that we didn't play very well and still took the game down to the last shot says a lot about the fight that our guys have.”
Bucknell shot 51 percent in the second half after hitting just 35.5 percent in the first 20 minutes. The Bison finished at 44 percent for the game, compared to Monmouth's 49 percent. Bucknell had 17 assists on 29 field goals and only eight turnovers in the game.
Monmouth led by as many as 10 in the first half. The Bison got it back to seven on a fastbreak dunk by Moore and a free throw by Sotos, but a key exchange occurred in the waning seconds of the half. Foulland had a dunk waved off as he was called for a push-off on the entry pass, and at the other end Seaborn stuck a three with seven seconds left to make it 41-31 at the break.
Thomas recorded Bucknell's first 30-point game since Chris Hass netted 30 at Lafayette late in the 2015-16 season. His 16 rebounds are the most by a Bison since Mike Muscala had 19 against Navy in 2012-13.
Bucknell will be back in action on Sunday at Arkansas at 6 p.m. (ET). The game will be televised on the SEC Network.