King Rice's greatest takeaway from Monmouth's MAAC tournament opener was defensive effort, which Hawks rode to a win over Rider in quarterfinals. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
ALBANY, NY -- For all the attention Monmouth generates from their high-octane offense and nationally captivating bench, sometimes it is easy to take for granted what the Hawks do when the basketball is not in their hands.
Such was the case at the Times Union Center on Friday, when Monmouth pulled out an uncharacteristic 59-48 victory over Rider, finding an alternate means of victory on a night where MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson was held to just nine points on 1-of-12 shooting against a Broncs team that made the Hawks work for whatever points they were able to tally.
"I've been waiting for a game for our defense to totally carry us," head coach King Rice said on the heels of a contest where Monmouth forced 21 turnovers that led to 24 points, and limited Rider to only five field goals in the first half. "I've been waiting for that to happen because all the kids want to play offense. They've got a coach that lets them shoot anytime they want to, but I just wanted it because I think we can be pretty good for stretches on defense."
And pretty good, the Hawks were, particularly in the opening stanza, where they held Rider without a field goal for almost ten minutes before freshman Kealen Ives beat the buzzer on a layup attempt to conclude the period. Even though the Broncs raised their percentages in the second half, Monmouth still registered 16 steals, half of which were amassed by Robinson alone.
"We just came out here and our shots weren't falling today, so we knew we had to step up even more on defense," said Micah Seaborn, who scored 14 points just hours after being crowned the MAAC's Rookie of the Year. "It says a lot when you can win a game like that when you're not shooting good and just playing good defense. That's what we've got to keep doing to win a championship."
The Hawks will certainly need two more performances like the one they got Friday, regardless of who they face next. Sunday's semifinal against Saint Peter's or Fairfield will see Monmouth take on either an uptempo attack like the Stags' outfit, or a gritty, half court, grind-it-out type that Saint Peter's brings to the hardwood, and Monday's championship game will come against either one of the conference's heavyweights, be it Iona, Siena, or two-time reigning champion Manhattan. Nevertheless, Monmouth's first showing went a long way in dictating what the end game for this dream season will be.
"Defense wins championships," said Robinson. "We're not going to win games here, let alone a championship, if we don't step up on the defensive end. Tonight was a good wake-up call for us, and it made us understand how important it was to stay consistent on the defensive end of the floor."