Monmouth fans are still celebrating Hawks' overtime win at UCLA as team readies for next contest against USC Monday night. (Photo courtesy of Monmouth University Athletics)
Now one night removed from what may go down as the biggest regular season win in program history, Monmouth remains on cloud nine, and understandably so.
"It's great for our kids," head coach King Rice gushed even after he was able to sleep on a 1-0 start to the year in the wake of the Hawks' 84-81 upset of UCLA. "When you watch the tapes, it's like 'man, they're pretty good,'" he said, recounting the scouting process before registering perhaps the most shocking win in the nation Friday night. "Then when you watch who they have right now, we match up well against them at every position. Then you watch your kids and you start seeing some good things, and you just start believing that 'hey, the right things have to happen for us, and we could win this game.'"
"We were talking to our kids the whole time," he continued. "Hey, we can win this game, guys, but we're going to have to believe, we're going to have to play without getting mad. Our kids believed, and we were able to get it done."
While newcomer Je'lon Hornbeak secured the victory by knocking down two free throws in the final seconds of the overtime period, it was Collin Stewart who gave Monmouth the lead with a pair of his own foul shots, providing a moment of vindication that may be the most satisfying result for Rice regardless of the final score.
"I think Collin has been a big person in our program for a long time," Rice said of the fourth-year junior, whose 19 points Friday paced the Hawks. "I've always said this is how good Collin was, so it doesn't surprise me at all. When he got to college, the game was really different for him and it took him a lot of time to adjust, and that happens to a lot of kids. I look at Collin and he's a junior now, he has some time under his belt, he knows what his coach wants and now he's able to relax enough and just be himself. I think people are truly going to see who Collin Stewart is on the basketball court."
Stewart and his other teammates look to write another Hollywood ending on their West Coast trip Monday night, as the two-game swing concludes with a matchup against USC, a contest that most people speculated would be the Hawks' best chance for a win.
"This is a different matchup than UCLA," Rice assessed of the meeting with Andy Enfield's Trojans, who were victorious in their season opener on Friday, defeating San Diego comfortably by the final of 83-45. "It's like opposites. USC is very athletic, he (Enfield) wants to trap you and get up and down, switch ball screens and really, really get the game going fast. I think our kids play better like that, so it will be interesting, but they have a lot of depth. They have a lot of kids believing this is going to be their year. Our kids have to recover, but I like our chances."
As Monmouth turns the page to their next order of business, the Hawks will still reflect on Friday's historic result, but will also recognize that the best is yet to come in West Long Branch.
"As I said to some people last (Friday) night, I wanted our kids to feel great," an elated Rice proudly admitted. "We haven't felt this feeling in a long time at Monmouth, and maybe never playing against a high-major opponent. I want them to be fired up, I want young guys believing when you win like this. They start getting more confidence. We don't have a group of guys that are going to start getting overconfident or thinking they're cool now, because their coach doesn't get down like that. We're a team that's just starting a journey together and last night was a big night, but we've got a lot more big nights coming."