Monday, January 11, 2016

Monmouth's hot shooting, transition defense pull Hawks past Fairfield

Micah Seaborn's career-high 24 points helped Monmouth overcome a game Fairfield squad in Hawks' 86-74 victory. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Monmouth has been in situations like the one they were in Monday night. Time after time, the Hawks have gotten themselves out of traps with veteran poise and efficient shooting to emerge victorious, and such was the case in their latest contest.

Trailing by double digits with 6:58 to play in the first half and by seven points at the intermission, Monmouth (12-4, 4-1 MAAC) calmly found a way through the adversity and drove past Fairfield (8-8, 2-4 MAAC) by the final of 86-74 for the Hawks' third straight win since concluding their non-conference schedule with a loss at Army West Point on December 28.

"Coach Rice told me to quit driving so much, because I was driving and people were already there," said Micah Seaborn, whose career-high 24 points marked his second consecutive game of 20-plus points. "He said shoot the open three, so I started shooting it and it started falling for me."

For Seaborn, who sat out last season after being ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA, his performance on Monday provided a measure of validation, fulfilling a vision he pictured while waiting for his opportunity to come to fruition.

"There were nights right after their game, win or lose, I would go back to the gym at night and shoot and shoot," the redshirt freshman recounted. "I would imagine me bringing us back, or in the big game, me hitting the big shot. Against Dayton, I missed a big shot, so now, I got to help the team come back."

"Micah Seaborn is a baller," head coach King Rice echoed his young pupil. "This past week, he was in the gym so many times just by himself, calling me to work him out, anybody to work him out. He just wants to be in there shooting."

By the final buzzer, Seaborn racked up a 9-for-16 display from the floor, connecting on four of seven attempts beyond the three-point line in a game where the Hawks took a grand total of 24 shots from long distance and made half of them, something that; although contradictory to their season statistics, is desired by the coaching staff.

"When we came into the season, I wanted 25 to 30 of them," Rice said of his team's outside shot selection. "Last year, we were about 15 to 17 (per game) and you saw what happened in the (MAAC) tournament, and I just started looking at numbers. I started looking at teams that I like: Vanderbilt, I looked at (North) Carolina, I looked at Iowa State. I just started looking at guys, and all those teams; who I felt had really good coaches, were shooting 25 to 28 threes a game."

Not only did Monmouth win the game with an exceptional shooting performance, they managed to withstand a quiet 14 points from Justin Robinson, which was supplemented by a transition defense that turned 18 Fairfield turnovers into 31 points.

"My job as a leader and the point guard is to make sure we win games," a confident Robinson firmly intoned after posting 14 points, six rebounds, and four assists. "If we're winning games, I'm happy and all the guys are happy."

"It seemed like they were beating us down the floor the whole night," Rice said of his team's transition game. "We're really good in transition also, and that's the one thing we've worked on. If we've had 60 practices, 58 days, we've had transition defense, so there's no reason why we should not be good at it."

Marcus Gilbert led the Stags with 20 points in the losing effort, but just as he did in Fairfield's close loss to Manhattan on January 2, head coach Sydney Johnson lamented the offensive miscues.

"I think the turnovers led to their transition," he conceded. "We really liked our assist-to-turnover numbers at the half. We failed to take care of the ball, and you have to give them some credit in terms of bothering us, and that led to turnovers and leakouts."

Monmouth now heads into Friday's nationally televised matchup against Iona with every intent on matching the Gaels shot for shot, even as Tim Cluess' team brings a 26-game home winning streak into the Hynes Athletics Center with them. As intimidating as that number can be, the Hawks are not getting overconfident, recognizing the magnitude of the marquee clash but also remembering what needs to be done/

"It's a big factor," Robinson admitted of Iona's dominance on their home floor. "We still haven't beaten them there. We were very close there last year, and A.J. English made big-time shots. He's a big-time player, and we've just got to contain him and play our basketball."

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