West Long Branch – Stress.
Monmouth University fifth-year men’s basketball coach King Rice knows all about it even though his Hawks, who have gained national attention thanks to their penchant for upsetting high major programs coupled with the notoriety of their Bench Mob, are off to a flying start.
But heading into Monday night’s MAAC game versus Canisius adversity had begun to rear its head. Not only had Monmouth dropped its prior game at hot shooting Army, but over the weekend it was announced Je’lon Hornbeak, a starting transfer guard from the University of Oklahoma, had been suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
And Canisius, the No. 6 scoring team in Division I basketball (86.3 ppg.) going into Monday night, shredded Monmouth’s defense with 16 threes en route to a 96-86 victory Dec. 4 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Rice said since the Army game he’d been pushing his team hard in practice and yelling.”Trying to make some points to them,” Rice said.
“Coaching makes you stress. Coaching makes you worry about things. I tell people all the time worrying doesn’t make you anything but make you sick.
“So I had I had to get out of their way this week. I had to leave them alone some and not be frowning at them and yelling at them every time they didn’t do something right.
“We have an older group of young men that handle their business when the coach gets out of their way.”
The approach panned out Monday.
Monmouth threw a defensive blanket over the Golden Griffins en route to an 81-66 victory in front of 2,731 at the Multi Purpose Activity Center.
Junior guard Justin Robinson, a human water bug, darting and twisting into the lane when not stepping back & draining 3-point baskets, scored 25 points to lead the Hawks (10-4, 2-1).
Sophomore forward Jermaine Crumpton’s 15 points paced Canisius (7-7) which had its four-game winning streak snapped.
Here are three take aways from Monday’s game.
1. The Dec. 4 defeat was still fresh in the minds of the Monmouth players.
“They truly, truly remembered the last time we played them and what happened,” Rice said.
“It was definitely on our mind,” Monmouth junior guard Josh James said. “We definitely didn’t want that to happen again. So we just wanted to come out here and play hard and show what we can really do.”
What Monmouth did was shoot 55 percent (8-18) from beyond the arc paced by 3-7 each from Robinson and junior forward Collin Stewart.
Almost before many in the crowd had found their seats the Hawks were out to a 21-6 lead.
Canisius only once cut the deficit below double figures before Monmouth led by as many as 21 points in the second half.
“We owed them a game because they got us up there,” Robinson said. “Our deal was to defend our home court and play our basketball. We didn’t play a full 40 minutes (at Canisius).”
In the first meeting Canisius hit 12 threes in the first half. Monday night it shot 3-14 from downtown over the first 20 minutes.
In the Dec. 4 game Canisius led by as many as 19 points in the first half before owning a 16 point advantage the break. Monday Monmouth flipped the script and led 41-27 at halftime.
2. Monmouth made up for Hornbeak’s absence.
Hornbeak was averaging 8.3 ppg, which included an 18 point showing at Canisius.
Monday Stewart, who had two points at Canisius, came off the bench to pump in 14. James, who started in place of Hornbeak, tallied seven points and nabbed six rebounds.
Hornbeak was on the bench Monday but Rice gave no indication as to a timetable for his return to action.
“I want everybody to know I love Je’lon,” Rice said. “He’s a part of our group, he’s my kid. He’s not a bad young man, none of that.
“I love that kid. It’s important, not just for Je’lon but for his brothers (teammates) that are sitting up here (at the table in the media center).”
When Rice told the team earlier Monday that Hornbeak would be permitted to sit the bench during the game the reaction was jubilant.
“The celebration when I said he was going to be on the bench today, they couldn’t control themselves, and that was to a man,” Rice said. “These guys were so fired up that their brother was going to be with them today.
“He was fired up for the opportunity to be around the team. We’re working on some things and Je’lon is part of our group, and he will always be a Monmouth man and I’m always going to stand up for him.
“We just had to do a couple of things to make sure all of us are doing the right things.
“Je’lon has been awesome since the bad news that he received.”
3. Playing its second game in three days may have hurt the Griffins.
“We’re coming off a good win against Marist,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said of Saturday’s 92-83 victory over the Red Foxes in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
In that game sophomore Kassius Robertson led five five players in double figures scoring 27 points as Canisius shot 49.1% (28-57) from the floor.
Monday night it never recovered from a woeful start (6-27, 22%) in the first half, ending at 32% (32-59).
“You’ve got to turn it around in 24 hours and play a good team like Monmouth,” Baron said. “This is all part of the process of maturity and keep working to get better.”
“They’re a good team,” Baron said of the Hawks. “Robinson gets them going. We beat them the first time and we beat them pretty good.
“They came out with a lot of fire and a lot of intensity.
“We’ve got a lot of newcomers,” Baron said. “These (Monmouth) guys were picked one or two in the league.” Monmouth was No. 2 in the preseason MAAC Coaches’ Poll.
“They can score the ball, they can pass the ball, and Robinson is terrific,” Baron said.
Once the Canisius’ deficit reached double figures it seemed whenever the Golden Griffins even hinted at climbing back into contention Robinson would twirl his way in for a layup or Stewart would drill a three from the wing or a corner.
Meanwhile Canisius was almost continually off target.
“We missed shots, we missed free throws (21-33) we missed open shots,” Baron said. “We’re better than that. You’ve got to hit those shots, especially on the road. We did that against Marist.
“They (Monmouth) hit shots, they outrebounded us. They were very aggressive.”
Moment of truth: After a three pointer by Robertson cut Monmouth’s lead to 35-27 with 2:04 remaining in the first half, Robinson drove for a layup, Deon Jones (12 points, 10 rebounds) scored on a tip, and 6’10” Chris Brady (four points, 10 rebounds), stuffed in a Robinson miss at the buzzer.
Player of the game: Robinson. What a surprise! The 5’8″ junior registered 9-18 shooting plus 4-4 from the line, dealt seven assists with only three turnovers, and grabbed three rebounds in 35 minutes.
This n’ that: Monmouth outrebounded Canisius 46-29….Mike Izzulino, who starred for Baron’s St. Francis, Pa. 1991 Northeast Conference championship team, is in his third year as an assistant coach at Canisius….Baron’s two sons, Jimmy and Billy who both played for him at Canisius, are playing professional basketball in Belgium..
Next for Canisius: 7 p.m. Thursday vs. Manhattan (ESPN3)
Next for Monmouth: 2 p.m. Saturday vs. Quinnipiac (ESPN3)