ALBANY, N.Y. — It was not exactly the most crisp game for either side but Monmouth asserted themselves on the Times Union Center court in their first appearance as top seed.
Micah Seaborn, fresh off being named MAAC Rookie of the Year two hours before tip off, led the Hawks with 14 points, while newly minted MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson added a nine point, six rebounds and tied his career-high with eight steals to send the Hawks to the semifinals with a 59-48 victory.
For a time the eighth seeded Rider led 6-2, but the Hawks mounted a 19-3 run over seven minutes. From there the defense took over and forced the Broncs into an anemic first half output. In the first half the Broncs made four of their 12 two-point shots and made just one three-pointer to go with 13 turnovers.
The Broncs’ second half charge, a 19-3 run that closed a lead that ballooned as large as 22 to an eight point game. However, Rider’s problems to hold onto the ball continued in the final minutes as Xavier Lundy, who made three three-pointers to help spark the comeback, pump faked but lost the handle as he drove the lane and caused the team’s 19th turnover. Monmouth took advantage to convert as Seaborn drained a three from the left corner to put the Hawks back up 11. On the Broncs’ next possession, Ives lost the ball in the lane to Robinson.
Monmouth put the game away thanks to making 18 of their 21 free throws and will advance to play the winner of the final quarterfinal on Saturday night which features Saint Peters and Fairfield. It wasn’t their most convincing win, shooting 31.6% from the field and converting just five of 22 three-pointers, but they will take it
Rider finishes the season 13-20, ensuring their first 20-loss season since Tommy Dempsey’s first season at the helm of the Broncs.
Here are three thoughts from the Hawks’ victory on Friday that brought them one step closer to dancing in the big dance, as oppose to Justin Robinson’s pre-game antics prior to tip off:
King Rice Waited For This To Happen – The Monmouth head coach, who was just crowned Coach of the Year hours before tip off said he had been waiting for a game where the Hawks would need to win on the defensive end. He did not know that it would be the first game in a three-game tournament grind.
“I told the kids at halftime, I’ve been waiting for a game for our defense to totally carry us,” Rice said. “I’ve been waiting for that to happen because all kids want to play offense, they got a coach that lets them shoot anytime they want to, but I just wanted it to get to because I think we can be pretty good on defense and for stretches tonight, especially the first half, I thought we were tremendous. Then for small stretches in the second half, we bucked down and did a solid enough job to get the win.”
The Hawks caused a season-high 21 turnovers on the night. Robinson tied a career-high with eight steals, effectively helping cause at least half of the Broncs turnovers by clogging up the lane all night.
“Defense wins championships, we’re not going win games here, let alone a championship if we don’t step up on the defensive end,” Robinson said. “Tonight was a good wake up call for us and it made us understand how important it was to stay consistent on the defensive end of the floor.”
Broncs Reflect on What Could Have Been – Prior to the season Rider was picked tied for third in the conference along with three-time defending champion Manhattan. The Broncs made a charge in the second half, mounting a 19-3 run to close a 22 point lead to eight with just over seven minutes left. But then turnovers number 19 and 20 came and Rider would not score until just over 2:35 left.
“I mean we definitely fell short,” graduate Teddy Okereafor said, who finished with two points in his final game. “I mean everybody wants to win, I’m not, it’s not the way I wanted to go out, but I’m glad I went out with this team I love everybody on this team.”
Rider never appeared to put together a run in conference play better than three game win streak and their trouble to score the ball, scoring under a point per possession, did them in against a swarming Hawks defense.
“I thought we struggled in a lot of different areas trying to figure out how exactly we were going to score, just taking care of the ball, and we just didn’t do a good job,” Rider head coach Kevin Baggett said of their final performance of the season.
The Broncs under Baggett have made two second place finishes, but have yet to escape out of the MAAC tournament semifinals for a program that has yet to win a MAAC championship since joining the conference in 1997.
“We have had some unfortunate luck, a little bit,” Baggett said. “You need a little luck with this, so we’ll get it back at it again next year and hopefully I won’t have you saying the same thing to me next year.”
Hawks Offense Limps To Win – Suddenly in the middle of the press conference, Rice suddenly coughed while looking at the box score.
“I just saw that they were four for 22, so I’m not really good but I’m going to take it,” Rice said afterwords referring to Seaborn and Robinson.
To date, the Hawks performance offensively ranked as the third worst per possession of this season (0.88). The only two games ranking below it are their loss to Iona and their home victory over Niagara in December, also led by their defense which allowed 42 points to the Purple Eagles.
Monmouth made 31.6% of their field goals and even their sharpshooters like Collin Stewart and Je’lon Hornbeak finished with just one three-pointer on the night. The Hawks survived thanks to being an efficient team at the free throw line, making 85.7% of those shots, but the offense will need to come against whoever they face next on Sunday afternoon.
“We just came out here and our shots weren’t falling today, so we knew we had to step up even more on defense, sometimes your shot is not going to fall,” Seaborn said. “I mean nobody shot that good except for Chris [Brady] tonight. I mean it says a lot when you can win a game like that, when you’re not shooting good, just playing good defense, that’s what we got to keep doing to win a championship.”
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.