Monmouth Earns First Playoff Win For King Rice

Monmouth held off a late surge from Canisius Saturday afternoon to earn a 60-54 win over the Golden Griffins and move on to the MAAC semifinals Sunday afternoon. Justin Robinson proved his worth as an all-MAAC first team member, leading four Hawks in double figures with 16 points.

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Monmouth sophomore Justin Robinson scored a team-high 16 points to carry the Hawks to the MAAC semifinals.

Make no mistake, Monmouth has a legitimate chance to take down Iona tomorrow. That would have been the case no matter which team won, since Iona’s three conference losses came against Canisius, Monmouth, and Saint Peter’s so the Gaels were in for a battle no matter the outcome Saturday afternoon.

The Hawks defeated Iona in their second conference game of the season back in December 92-89 thanks to a tremendous 25-point effort from Robinson. Three other Hawks joined Robinson in double figures that night, while Deon Jones (11), Andrew Nicholas (11), and Collin Stewart (10) joined that club with him on Saturday.

The win marks King Rice’s first playoff victory as head coach at Monmouth, and his squad will look to keep things rolling when they square off against the high-flying Gaels Sunday afternoon.

“I’m not one of those coaches who wants to be in the limelight,” Rice said. “I want to win because Monmouth was the only one who wanted to give me a chance. This is what I thought would happen eventually for our program. Monmouth is used to winning and now we’re trying to get back to that. It feels great because Monmouth won. It’s cool for the seniors because we went through a lot of losses and now we get to play in the MAAC semifinals.”

On the other end of the court, Canisius fell short against Monmouth but certainly exceeded all expectations this year. A few months after losing MAAC player of the year Billy Baron, the Griffs weren’t expected to amount to much. Jim Baron’s squad was picked to finish 10th in the league in the preseason and ended up 5th despite losing two key players in Phil Valenti and Jermaine Crumpton.

Valenti surprised most observers by suiting up for Saturday’s game despite missing the last nine games with an ankle injury. He managed just three points in 14 minutes of play, but provided a boost for a Griffins team that has lacked depth recently.

“Any time a guy comes back, you’re kind of leery of how much he can take,” Baron said of Valenti. “It’s tough for him because he plays so hard and to try and get back. He’s about at 60%. I give him a lot of credit for coming back to make the MAAC tournament. That takes a lot of effort and determination and desire as well as getting yourself healed.”

Baron has revitalized a program that won just five games and went 1-17 the season before he took over in 2012. For most of his recent coaching years, he has been able to rely on his sons Jim and Billy to hold his teams in place. With the graduation of Billy last May, he wasn’t able to rely on that stabilizing force from one of the top scorers in the country.

I coached my sons the last seven years, so I knew what I had in the locker room. I knew that they were bringing it every single day because of their determination. Now I had to turn it over to these guys and it was very rewarding. It’s about development, getting ready for the destination and not just every game. It’s about life besides basketball. That’s the beauty of coming here and developing these student-athletes and getting everything back on track.”

Jeremiah Williams led the Griffins and all scorers with 18 points Saturday afternoon. All-MAAC Rookie team member Kassius Robertson added 10 points off the bench.

Monmouth takes on Iona in the MAAC semifinals at 4:30 Sunday afternoon for a chance to play for the MAAC Championship.

Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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