This is a new age of Monmouth basketball. No longer is there such a thing as moral victories. No longer should the Hawks be praised for simply fighting back in the second half and keeping the game close. Not in the King Rice era.
As Rice slumped in his chair during the post game press conference, he reiterated these points and stressed that Saturday’s loss to a bigger and more athletic Rider team should never be considered a moral victory.
“I take my hat off to Rider and their team, their staff,” said a disappointed Rice. “They played for 40 minutes, we played for about 21 minutes and everyone knows when you play 21 minutes of basketball in a 40 minute game, it’s hard to come out with a (victory). I’m proud of my kids for continuing to fight, but we have to get better and we have to learn how to win.”
Rice then boldly added, “Everybody at Monmouth needs to stop celebrating saying that we’re close. Everybody. When you lose, it’s a loss and it’s not OK. It’s never going to be OK, and we have to start winning some of these closer games.”
It was a tale of two halves for the Hawks. They found themselves down 16 at halftime, after hitting only one non-layup in the first half. Many players, most notably Andrew Nicholas and Jesse Steele, were constantly settling for contested outside jumpers that never found their way through the net. Monmouth missed all 11 of their three-point attempts, while Rider made seven in the first 20 minutes. Rice simply wasn’t pleased with his team’s inconsistent first half effort.
“I told them that’s not how we play,” said Rice. “That first half – what we did – that’s not Monmouth basketball. (The players) did their own things, and as I told them … at some point the kids have to do what the coach says and that’s my job. So we’re going to get them to do what I want, instead of what they think they want, and then we’ll have more success.”
After trailing 37-22 to Rider at the break, Rice’s message was evidently heard loud and clear by the players. The Hawks were more aggressive driving the lane and forcing turnovers with their pressure defense. Once the Hawks began playing free and loose, an amazing thing happened: those contested perimeter jumpers turned into open perimeter jumpers. Right off the bat, Monmouth cut Rider’s lead to four with a 11-0 run, with Dion Nesmith scoring seven of those points.
To Rider’s credit, the lead stretched back to 13 points, but Monmouth displayed tremendous resiliency in fighting back. Eventually, Monmouth had a chance late to tie the game or take the lead, but Jesse Steele’s shot was blocked by Zedric Salder. One big concern heading into the season was who would take the big shot for the Hawks late, but Rice didn’t hesitate in nominating his senior point guard once again.
“Well Jesse’s our go-to-guy,” said Rice. “We put the ball in Jesse’s hands hoping he could create something and his shot got blocked. You take your hat off to Rider’s defense, because they got a hand on his ball. Got to be smarter, if somebody’s on you that close where they can block your shot, then you should not shoot.”
Despite their inconsistent play, there were several positives to take away from this non-conference showdown. Monmouth forced a remarkable 28 turnovers – 16 in the second half – and held a superior athletic team to only 0.82 points scored per possession. With several of Monmouth’s big men in early foul trouble, Rice wasn’t able to implement his optimal lineup until midway through the second half. The lineup of Steele, Nesmith, Nicholas, Marcus Ware, and Stephen Spinella really gelled together and should be a five man set that Rice utilizes in crunch time down the road.
Spinella was particularly impressive in the second half, scoring 13 points (on only six shots) to go along with three rebounds and two assists. The South Carolina transfer appears to be fitting in with his new team.
“I feel real comfortable playing with them,” said Spinella. “Coach Rice gives me a lot of confidence, tells me to penetrate and get to the rim.”
It was an inconsistent effort in the end, but there’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a Monmouth fan. In season two, Rice’s squad is beginning to come together in the non-conference portion of the schedule, as opposed to last season when it took nearly 20 games for the team to find its rhythm. It’s clear that Rice’s Hawks are ready to compete with the upper echelon of the NEC come January.
Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride
3 thoughts on “Moral Victories No Longer the Goal for Rice, Monmouth”
they will only be ready to compete with the nec’s big boys IF they listen to coach rice, stop the 1-on-1 play, have more movement on offense and pretty much play with the urgency, aggression and effectiveness that they played with in the 2nd half yesterday. the team has a lot of capability, (I’ve been telling you guys that since the summer!) but NEEDS marcus ware to stay out of foul trouble to provide a post presence. that lineup you speak of- ware, red, spinella, dion, jesse did a fabulous job yesterday but ED WAITE played well attacking the boards and giving some fouls to defend the paint. ED is just as important as those other 5 guys, but right now I feel that MU has a top 6- their starters plus Spinella and then other guys who are working to emerge off of the bench. It honestly looks to me like Khalil Brown is not ready physically or mentally to compete inside against bigger, stronger more mature basketball players. I would like to see KR give Gary Cox more run as the first big off of the bench along with O’Garro who provides toughness on d and the boards but is a tad undersized and hasn’t looked for his offense yet. Someone out of Max DiLeo, Jalen Palm and Christian White must emerge as a backup PG option. I think right now DiLeo has the upper hand, especially because of his defense which is really top-notch. Optimism is there, but throughout the nonconference season there are still some things that must be figured out. With that being said, I have faith in the talent and the coaching staff to figure this out before NEC play begins.
Yeah. Waite and Cox are the next two options after the five mentioned. Right now Monmouth appears to go 7 deep in reality, but due to the Hawks’ style Rice has to play more guys. Ware does have to stay out if foul trouble. He’s the one true post presence and they’ll need him to contribute paint points to open up good looks for Nicholas and Steele.