King Rice is a member of the century club, and Monmouth moved one step closer to a second straight MAAC regular-season title with a 62-58 win over Manhattan Friday night at Draddy Gymnasium in the Bronx.
For the third game in a row, Monmouth was forced to mount a dramatic comeback in its quest for victory. The Hawks trailed by six at the final media timeout with 3:23 remaining, but an ensuing 9-0 run capped by a Micah Seaborn triple gave Monmouth a lead it would not relinquish down the stretch.
Monmouth outscored Manhattan 11-1 over that final 3:23 to pull out the victory, the 100th in the six-year career of head coach King Rice. Despite 27 points from the Jaspers’ Zavier Turner, who eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for his career with a triple 4:53 into the second half, the Hawks improved to 21-5 overall and 13-2 in league play, 3.5 games ahead of second-place Iona with five games left to play.
Here are three thoughts from Friday night in the Bronx:
Role Players – Monmouth’s star point guard Justin Robinson was held scoreless in the first half for the first time since a December 10 contest against Army. The senior finished the night with seven points, five rebounds, and five assists against the same number of turnovers.
Manhattan’s shutdown of the Hawks’ best player left the door wide open for a pair of role players to make their mark on the game.
Junior Austin Tilghman (6.6 ppg this season) and senior Josh James (3.2 ppg) were responsible for the Hawks’ last eight points prior to Seaborn’s go-ahead triple. James, who posted a season-best 13 points in the first meeting against Manhattan, got the Hawks within striking distance with a big three-point play with just under three minutes remaining, but it was Tilghman’s free throws which knotted the game at 57 with 2:06 to play.
“We’re a much better team than we were last year,” Rice said. “Just how we’ve won, we’re a much better team. I think we’re deeper, tougher mentally. Last year’s team…well we didn’t win this one last year. We were winning almost the whole game last year and then we had the technical thing and got shut out the rest of the way. Not mature enough to get it done here. Tonight, older kids. Austin made big plays, he’s a junior. Older guys made plays.”
C Game – Leave it up to Steve Masiello to find a way to compliment a team with what might easily be interpreted as an insult, but the Jaspers’ sixth-year head coach did just that after the game.
“I think what this is, is one of those times where Monmouth won – and I say this in a positive way – with their C game,” Masiello said. “When you can win on the road with your C game, you’ve got a special team. I think that was evident tonight.”
Monmouth’s 62 points were their third-lowest total on the season. Previously, the Hawks were held to 61 in a 10-point loss at Saint Peter’s and 50 points in a forgettable blowout at Syracuse early in the season.
The Hawks had one of their worst first halves of the year as they were held to just 27 points, and notched a dismal 0.65 points per possession in the frame. Although their late surge led to a win, Monmouth finished the game at just 0.82 PPP.
Monmouth’s depth is certainly a major factor down the stretch as they attempt to clinch another regular season MAAC crown and make a push into the conference tournament.
The three-headed monster leading the way in Robinson, Seaborn, and Je’lon Hornbeak is as fierce a trio as can be found in the league, with each averaging over 10.0 ppg., but what may be most impressive about the Hawks’ lineup is the sheer number of players Rice is able to rotate.
Although after the top three only three more players average over than 6.0 ppg., the Hawks routinely place double-digit players on the scoresheet. Twelve players on Monmouth’s roster have appeared in 20 or more games this year, and each of that dozen saw the court Friday night.
C Note – Rice gave much of the credit for his 100th win to his stellar senior class. The Hawks list five seniors on their active roster, led by Robinson. It is that group which has led the charge the last few years as Monmouth has notched back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in the school’s Division I history and currently hold an 11-game winning streak.
“I told the kids when I walked in the locker room, I have a job because of them,” Rice said postgame, gesturing to Hornbeak, Robinson, and Seaborn to his right. “This is their 100th win. I’m going to do this a long long time and hopefully if you get to do it a long time, you get to win some games, but these guys are the reasons that we have 100.”
Over the last three seasons, Rice’s Hawks have posted a combined record of 67-28. They reached the MAAC semifinals in the 2014-15 season, and since then have rattled off a record of 49-13 as the current senior class has matured into upperclassmen.
Monmouth next makes the trip to the site of the conference tournament when they take on a seemingly resurgent Siena team Monday night while Manhattan plays host to Saint Peter’s Sunday evening.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.