While Monmouth has been off to an impressive 5-3 start, it may have possibly made its most impressive feat on Sunday afternoon against Niagara.
The Hawks held the Purple Eagles to 0.62 points per possession, turned them over 20 times and allowed just 42 points. While Monmouth’s offense wasn’t as sharp as earlier in the year, the defense helped carry it to a 56-42 win. Head coach King Rice said he thought Sunday’s game could be a sign where the Hawks can begin to build on their defensive ability.
“Offensively we will be fine in any situation, but we’re interested in defense right now, we’re not committed to it,” Rice said. “We have a lot of room for improvement on the defensive end, so if we can get that better this week, I’d be truly happy.”
Last season, the Hawks finished 13-7 in the MAAC thanks to their defense, which held opponents to 0.97 points per possession. In the fast-paced conference both their defensive efficiency ranked and two-point field goal percentage defense ranked second.
“We’re trying hard on D, but we’re not there, we’re not even close,” Rice said. “It’s everything. It’s on the ball defense, it’s fouling too much, it’s dealing with ball screens and continuing to talk to each other on defense being aware and having anticipation. All the time, we lose our guy off the ball too much. Every aspect of defense we have to get better and then we got to really focus on five guys rebounding the ball.”
While continuing to improve the defense might be the key to the Hawks sustaining their run, the offense has showed tremendous growth from a season ago. Part of that is thanks to junior Justin Robinson, who was a first team All-MAAC player last season, and leads the team with 22.5 ppg. Rice endorsed the fact that the 5’8” guard has yet to show his full potential last season and said he has seen Robinson take another step since summer workouts.
“He is working harder on his game right now, I don’t know if there’s a harder working kid in the country,” Rice said. “So when you continue to work, the success keeps coming.”
Robinson was the second MAAC player to be named MVP of the Orlando-based AdvoCare Invitational and his confidence cannot be any higher, which Rice attributes to the guard’s work ethic.
“Justin’s confidence has really gone up, and he always was a confident kid and he always was proving people wrong, but you can see a difference in the way he’s carrying himself,” Rice said. “It’s not because he’s had success in the games, it’s because he puts in so much time and that’s where your confidence comes from.”
Yet Rice has even more reason for optimism in the offense, as the Hawks have scattered weapons around their point guard. Sophomore Micah Seaborn (14.1 ppg) has developed into a threat and Oklahoma transfer Je’lon Hornbeak (8.8 ppg) has impressed in his early Hawks career. Monmouth is deeper and boasts multiple threats that can carry them like three-point shooter Collin Stewart and senior Deon Jones who has proven to be a capable rebounder and scorer, to go with productivity from front court pieces Chris Brady, Diago Quinn and Zac Tillman.
“That’s been really good for us and we’ve really worked hard to be like this,” Rice said of their depth. “If we stay together the team will do well and then individuals will get noticed.”
“Our chemistry has been great so far and I think us having some success is really kept our guys tight together. I’m just preaching to them, no matter what we stick together, if somebody goes down if somebody punches us in the face whatever it is, whatever happens our group has to stick together. If we’ll do that, I like our chances.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.