Monmouth 66, Quinnipiac 51: Hawks Climbing The Hill

Monmouth knocked down another domino in their remarkable season with a 66-51 victory at Quinnipiac Thursday evening. Justin Robinson led all scorers with 13 points as the Hawks improved to 8-2 in MAAC play while the Bobcats fell to 2-7.

King Rice gives directions as Justin Robinson brings the ball up the court.
King Rice gives directions as Justin Robinson brings the ball up the court.

Prior to Thursday’s victory, the Hawks had never won a game in Quinnipiac’s TD Bank Sports Center, which celebrated its nine-year anniversary just this past Wednesday. Earlier in the month, Monmouth ended the Bobcats’ streak of 10 consecutive victories in the personal series with an 88-74 victory at the Multipurpose Activity Center in West Long Branch.

Thursday’s game could only be characterized as a defensive struggle. Monmouth’s 66 points were their second fewest of the season since they were limited to 56 in a win over Niagara in December. On the other hand, Quinnipiac continued to struggle offensively and failed to eclipse 53 points for the fourth consecutive game.

Here are three thoughts from Monmouth’s win over Quinnipiac:

1.) Monmouth continues on the path to prosperity. The Hawks are only two years removed from a dismal 11-21 campaign in 2013-14, their first season as a member of the MAAC. During that trying year, Monmouth finished 5-15 in conference play, falling to Rider in the first round of the conference tournament.

Now the Hawks are the class of the MAAC. The one-time bottom feeders of the Northeast Conference have steadily climbed the mountain over the last two years and today find themselves at the top of the MAAC.

“Our kids are growing up and we’re the veterans now,” head coach King Rice said. “We’re coming. We’re still not where we want to be, but our program is set up now. This isn’t a one year type of deal anymore. Next year is gonna be good, the year after that is gonna be good, and the year after that. We feel like we’re in a good place as a program now.”

The Monmouth bench, along with some starters, "dabs" after bench star Dan Pillari knocks down a pair of free throws late in the game.
The Monmouth bench, along with some starters, “dabs” after bench star Dan Pillari knocks down a pair of free throws late in the game.

Monmouth got an early taste of success with a 13-7 conference campaign last season, and many of their top contributors this year earned their stripes starting on that team that struggled two years ago.

“I try not to look too much in the past,” said junior Justin Robinson, who averaged 7.1 ppg as a freshman on that 2013-14 squad. “The only thing I look at in the past is my freshman year. I remember we lost every game from the end of January and all of February. That’s the only thing I look at and I say that’s not this team anymore.”

The Hawks have earned redemption over Quinnipiac, taking down the Bobcats in both meetings this season by a combined 29 points. They earned redemption for a semifinal loss to Iona last March when they ended the Gaels’ 26 game home winning streak with a 110-102 victory in New Rochelle earlier this month. Now they seek to continue their redemption tour on their way to a MAAC title.

2.) Quinnipiac may not be able to score, but they can certainly defend. To say the Bobcats’ first half offense was a disaster might actually be a compliment. Quinnipiac, who ranks dead last of 351 Division I teams in 2-point shooting (36.4%), managed to knock down just six of 40 shots in the first half, with a putrid 2-27 mark inside the arc.

Before you do the math, I’ll save you the time. That’s seven…yes SEVEN percent from 2 point range in the first half and just 15% overall.

Tom Moore must devise a way to get his team's offense going before the conference tournament
Tom Moore must devise a way to get his team’s offense going before the conference tournament

Although Quinnipiac simply can’t score, they remain competitive with their ability to defend. As mentioned, Monmouth’s 66 points were their second lowest total this season. Over their last four games, the Bobcats have now held opponents under 66 points in three of those contests.

“That travels,” head coach Tom Moore said of his team’s defense. “We can take that to Albany with us. “If we can get off this snafu offensively, then we’ll be a real competitive team.”

The problem looming over Quinnipiac’s head is the fact that they have lost nine of their last 10 and five games in a row, and now sit ahead of only Marist in the conference standings. This sort of streak has been unheard of in the Moore era, and unless the Bobcats can work out their offensive issues over the next five weeks, there may not be much left to salvage come tournament time.

“Since I’ve been here at Quinnipiac we’ve had some really good teams over the years,” Moore said. “This is the first time we’ve ever had a losing streak like this in nine years.”

3.) Chris Brady has anchored the Monmouth frontcourt. The junior center posted career highs with 16 points and 13 rebounds in the Hawks’ first win over Quinnipiac earlier this month and followed up that performance with another solid effort Thursday.

Brady tallied 11 points and seven rebounds Thursday evening and helped shut down any progress Quinnipiac hoped to make in the paint. Brady added three blocks, and was a large reason the Bobcats and one of the nation’s most physical frontcourts were held to just 12 points in the paint.

“I know every time we play Quinnipiac, they’re obviously one of the best rebounding teams in the country,” Brady said. “I always try to mentally prepare myself to just out-rebound whoever I’m guarding.”

Monmouth center Chris Brady has become a steady force in the paint.
Monmouth center Chris Brady has become a steady force in the paint.

Brady started Monmouth’s season-opening win over UCLA, but came off the bench until the Hawks’ home opener on December 13 against Wagner. He has started all 12 games since then and remained a vital piece of Monmouth’s frontcourt.

“I’m the guy who was not starting him,” Rice said “Chris has been tremendous. He’s a year young for being a junior. Age-wise he should be a sophomore. Just think if he had one more, what he could get to. But he’s going to get there anyway. His confidence is soaring. I’m just happy that he’s with us.”

Thursday’s contest kicked off stretches of three games in five days for both Monmouth and Quinnipiac. The Hawks continue the challenging slate with a home contest against Saint Peter’s on Saturday followed two days later with a visit to Albany to take on Siena, who is unbeaten on their home court.

Meanwhile, the Bobcats remain in their home state as they host Niagara on Saturday and travel to Bridgeport to take on Fairfield on Monday.

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

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