Justin Robinson, head coach King Rice, and Brice Kofane address media after Monmouth defeated Marist 57-50 in Hawks' first conference game. (Photo courtesy of Monmouth University)
It may not be the most glamorous matchup to watch, and it may not always come under the most desirable of circumstances, but at the end of the day, a win is a win.
The Monmouth Hawks proved that tonight in spite of an evening where they committed 20 turnovers, but still found a way to win on the road, taking a 57-50 victory from Marist to walk out of McCann Arena at 3-4 overall, and 1-0 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play going into their next matchup, a meeting with preseason league favorite Iona in West Long Branch on Sunday.
"We didn't have our best game tonight," head coach King Rice said, "but the thing about this team is that we're guarding the ball better than any point in the last three years. Two days ago, we had a practice, and we didn't look good against zone. They had me so shook. It was like, yesterday, we grew up against zone."
The Hawks used a 51 percent (24-for-47) shooting display from the field to maintain the upper hand in a game where neither side led by more than six points for the bulk of the night before Justin Robinson, who played his high school basketball in nearby Kingston, New York, scored five straight points to turn a one-possession struggle into a comfortable eight-point advantage.
"It was nice," said Robinson of his de facto homecoming after his 12 points paced Monmouth in the winning effort, "especially in the second half, because I did not have my ideal first half start." Rice interjected on behalf of his sophomore point guard: "He's our heart and soul, he does so many things for us, but he seemed super extra nervous tonight. We tried to calm him down and just get him to be 'J-Rob.'"
For Marist, the loss, which drops the Red Foxes to 1-6 on the young season, was additionally bittersweet after senior swingman Chavaughn Lewis, the third all-time leading scorer in school history who came into tonight's game averaging nearly 21 points per contest, was injured just 1:42 into the game, never returning.
"I think it's a sprained ankle," head coach Mike Maker stated in regard to Lewis, who was motionless on the baseline under the south basket for a minute or two before being helped off the court by two assistant coaches and a member of the Marist training staff, "and hopefully nothing more serious than that."
Despite the latest setback for a program that was already missing reigning MAAC Rookie of the Year Khallid Hart and senior guard T.J. Curry due to previous injuries, the Red Foxes' first-year head coach kept a calm and bright outlook.
"I've been proud of them," a glum Maker continued. "They've been through a lot, and just really being dealt a really tough hand. To be this competitive with what we're going through, we've made big strides as a basketball program, and better days are ahead."
"I'm not paying attention to scores and record, I'm paying attention to how we're being perceived in difficult circumstances. I'm going to tell you this: We're going to play good basketball, and we're going to give everything we have."
Phillip Lawrence, who led the way with 14 points for Marist on 6-of-10 shooting, had the game-high point total. The Red Foxes will attempt to regroup on Sunday when they travel to Riverdale for a meeting with Steve Masiello and Manhattan in the Jaspers' home opener, while Monmouth takes on Tim Cluess and the uptempo attack of the Gaels.
"They were like playing your big brother last year," Rice commented on competing against Iona. "We're fired up for the challenge. We're going to go in there and be ready, and I think our building will be live that day."