BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – After a lackluster first-half that saw his team down seven points, Monmouth coach King Rice stormed into the locker room and … calmly discussed what his team had to do better to win the game.
“The thing about this year’s team is when I even get a frowned up face it’s a negative reaction to my kids,” Rice said. “So I have to be a better coach and understand they don’t respond to that at all. When we came into the locker room, it was just, ‘Guys when we got after them defensively, those three-pointers didn’t go in. When you stand two feet off them like we were doing, that team will beat you badly because they’re comfortable.’ We weren’t guarding to our level. No yelling. We just needed to do a better job on defense.”
The end result: A dominant second half, particularly on the defensive end, for the Hawks as they held Fairfield to just 0.77 points per possession after giving up 1.17 ppp in the first 20 minutes and walked out of Webster Bank Arena with an 86-74 win to move to 4-1 in the MAAC (12-4 overall).
Monmouth’s low point Monday came with seven minutes left in the first half when Tyler Nelson got behind them three consecutive times on run-outs like it was a middle school game, putting Fairfield (8-8, 2-4) up 36-24. The Hawks awoke at that point, but still trailed 47-40 at halftime.
There was no panic, though, Monmouth has seen some of the best the country has to offer already this season, so it just had to focus, raise their intensity a bit, and everything else would take care of itself.
“We were only down seven at halftime,” Justin Robinson said. “We’ve been down big before, so seven points was pretty much nothing. We just had to buckle down on defense and play harder. We know we can come back on anybody.”
Robinson only had 14 points and four assists, but had plenty of confidence in his hot teammates in the second half to get the job done.
“I could care less about what my stat line says as long as we’re winning,” Robinson said. “My job is to make sure we’re winning games, and if we’re winning games, I’m happy.”
Despite the slow start (which is a bit of a trend lately), Monmouth showed plenty of championship credentials Monday, coming from behind in a “trap” game on the road against a Fairfield team had some solid non-conference wins (including at Patriot League leading Bucknell) and can be tough to deal with when shooting well (currently 52nd in eFG%).
The Hawks not only shut them down almost completely after halftime, but seemed to have every answer at the other end, even with Robinson “only” with 14. The star was redshirt freshman Micah Seaborn, who looks like he’ll be a permanent MAAC star soon, but there were plenty of other options, including a returning Je’lon Hornbeak.
Quite simply, they are no fluke and they likely aren’t going anywhere in the MAAC race, with a massive game at Iona Friday.
What else did we learn from Webster Bank Arena Monday?:
//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.js1) If you didn’t know Micah Seaborn’s name already
Seaborn and Hornbeak (an Oklahoma transfer) were somewhat of a package deal, and what a package it seems to be for Monmouth and Rice. Seaborn was caught up in the Prime Prep fiasco of last year and therefore had to enter Monmouth as a non-qualifier and sit out last season. In the end, it worked out fine because both Hornbeak and Seaborn were added to a Monmouth roster that was on its way up in the MAAC anyway, and look what they’ve become.
“On their game nights, win or lose last year, I would go back to the gym and shoot and shoot and imagine bringing us back or hitting a big shot in a big game,” Seaborn said. “Against Dayton, I missed a big shot, so it was nice to help the team like this today.”
Seaborn finished with a career-high 24 points, 17 in the second half, and Rice for one thinks the better is yet to come, yet alone the best.
“This past year he was in the gym so many times, calling me to work him out, calling anybody to work him out, he just wants to be in the gym shooting,” Rice said. “He had friends in town, they were over there shooting. After the last game, I said to myself I just have to get out of this kid’s way and have three or four minute stretches where we just give him the ball and say, ‘Go ahead, Micah.’ He can do that.”
2) Lost opportunity for Fairfield
After winning just seven games total in each of the last two seasons, the Stags have not only been much more entertaining this season (now 19th nationally in adjusted tempo), but better and much more efficient on offense. In the first half, they were able to put it all together, and a win Monday would have put them at 3-3 in the MAAC having played the toughest in-conference strength of schedule to date, meaning they would be in really good shape for a top-five MAAC finish and a bye into the quarterfinals in Albany,
They still could, but at 2-4 things are a little tougher with a big stretch coming up with home games against Niagara and Saint Peter’s. Fairfield finished 12-29 from three and outrebounded Monmouth 32-28, but turned it over 18 times, 10 in the second half.
“I thought a bit of their experience showed up. And then you have a really good player (Seaborn) that took the game over,” Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said. “As much as anything, they stuck to what they do and we got away from what we do in terms of sharing the ball and getting quality shots and they made us pay. We’ve played some very good basketball teams, but everybody is going to get their shot at everybody else. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, nothing has been lost on these guys, they’ve learned what we need to do. We’ve seen our weaknesses, we’ve certainly seen our strengths. We’ll take on these next games and see who we are.”
3) Monmouth-Iona anyone?
You may remember that Iona almost would not have had the nation’s seventh-longest win home win streak (26) if Monmouth had been able to hit a buzzer-beater last February at the Hynes Center. But two weeks later in Albany, Iona handled Monmouth fairly easily in the MAAC semifinals, and that game has stuck with Rice and the Hawks since. They got a shot at early revenge Friday on national television.
“The last team we played these young men (Iona), they had me feeling awful,” Rice said. “They’re the best team, they’ve shown it over time. We’re excited, we’re still the new guy on the block trying to get into their clubhouse. I’m hearing the building’s going to be going crazy. But we’re going to do what we do in practice and get ready to play.”
A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on