Monmouth finished the regular season 11-19 overall with a 7-11 league record and will enter the MAAC tournament as the #8 seed. The Hawks will face off against #9 seed Saint Peter’s in the tournament’s opening game Thursday at 5:00.
King Rice’s squad began the year with lofty goals after claiming the last two regular season titles, but a 1-5 start to MAAC play quickly tempered expectations in West Long Branch. The Hawks first met Thursday opponent Saint Peter’s on New Year’s Eve. Although the two hit halftime tied at 30, junior Micah Seaborn was forced from the game early in the second half with an ankle injury and Monmouth eventually fell 77-64.
Player To Watch: #10 Micah Seaborn, Jr. G
Seaborn has dealt with various ailments all season long and missed 14 games in total. He most recently sat out seven straight with a hamstring injury, but returned to play in the Hawks’ final three games. Seaborn contributed 15 points, six rebounds, and five assists in Monmouth’s 93-89 triple-overtime win at Siena on Feb. 18 in his first game back, then poured in a career-high 30 against Rider before being held to just two points in the season finale at Fairfield.
There is no individual player more capable of turning the MAAC tournament on its head than Seaborn.
The Texas native leads the Hawks with a 14.1 ppg average while connecting on 46% of his three-point attempts this season. Seaborn was a member of last season’s All-MAAC First Team, but missed out on this year’s honors due to his injuries. When healthy, he is undoubtedly one of the best players in the league.
“Micah’s had a tough year because of injuries,” Rice said of his star. “When he’s healthy, he’s one of the top guys…Sydney [Johnson] did a great job of game planning against Micah for that game on Saturday, and I didn’t help him enough, so I’m sure his mind is down a little bit. But he’s a baller, so he’ll be ready to go.”
Seaborn is Monmouth’s difference-maker, but he is far from its only threat. All-MAAC Third Team member Austin Tilghman has held down the point in fabulous fashion following the graduation of Justin Robinson. Although a senior in his first year as a regular starter, Tilghman has been one of the league’s most versatile players, averaging 11.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, and 5.5 apg.
“He’s impacted games from the day he stepped on campus,” Rice said of Tilghman. “That’s just who Austin is. He’s a leader, but he’s also someone who will follow when we had other guys that were in front of him, and just an all-around winner.”
The depth of Monmouth’s backcourt is bolstered by a pair of freshmen enjoying standout years. Deion Hammond burst onto the scene with double-digit efforts in each of his first two collegiate games, and has gone on to average 12.2 ppg and earn a spot on the All-MAAC Rookie Team while playing the lion’s share of Seaborn’s missed minutes.
Redshirt freshman Ray Salnave sat out last season with little room to break into a veteran backcourt, and was viewed as the heir apparent to Robinson. The Elmont native didn’t break out of the gates the way Hammond did, but has been excellent down the stretch.
Salnave reached double figures in nine of his last 13 games to end the season, including a career-high 21 in the Hawks’ second meeting with Saint Peter’s on Feb. 13. He capped his first season of play averaging 9.9 ppg.
Monmouth entered the season with perhaps the league’s deepest frontcourt, but no forward averages more than Diago Quinn’s 6.8 ppg. Both Quinn and fifth-year senior Zac Tillman (6.6 ppg) should see time in the paint along with freshman Melik Martin and sophomore Mustapha Traore.
The Hawks greatest advantage may come from the charity stripe. According to KenPom.com, Monmouth ranks fourth in all of Division I with a 44.2 Free Throw Rate, and has been second-best to Saint Peter’s by connecting on 74.3% of those attempts during league play.
It would certainly be poetic to see Monmouth make a miracle run to capture this year’s MAAC title after falling short with the best team in the league each of the last two seasons. Fortunately for us, we won’t have to wait long to see if they can tap into that March magic.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.