King Rice remained optimistic about Monmouth's long-term sustainability even after Hawks were overpowered by Seton Hall Sunday at Prudential Center. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
NEWARK, NJ -- King Rice, more often than not, is a straight shooter regardless of how his Monmouth team performs.
Usually, the seventh-year head coach is able to not only speak his mind after the final buzzer sounds on his Hawks program, but also to see the silver lining in every cloud, the light at the end of each tunnel. Such was the case Sunday afternoon, when Monmouth was decisively and soundly beaten by Seton Hall in a 75-65 loss where free throws helped make the final score closer, but one in which the valiant resolve honed to perfection by the consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season championship teams forged through once more.
"I tried to explain to my kids, you can play against a high-major program," Rice remarked on a day in which the Hawks were outmuscled in the paint by a 40-16 margin by Seton Hall, who posted four double-figure scorers, including a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double from Angel Delgado. "We have big bodies, too. And then when you get to the ranked teams and the top teams in the country, it's a different animal. It was a good game for about 12-14 minutes, but no cracks. They knew they were going to out-solid us. They were going to continue to be solid until we weren't able to stay solid with them."
In defeat, there were some bright spots, namely the 16 points from Micah Seaborn and a second consecutive strong effort from freshman Deion Hammond, who paced the Hawks with 17 markers in a collective showing that can be best described as an instructional moment.
"I'm trying to teach my guys -- even my veterans, because they haven't been in this much heat before," said Rice. "They played 8-10 minutes, and now we're expecting them to be 15-20-minute guys. When they went to the bench last year, they might not have come back to major minutes in a game. I think my veterans got over their comfort level, and that impacted their minds when they came back in the game."
"We're trying to do things we're not good at yet, and that's when it got away from us. That's just a credit to their team, and there's no excuses from me. Our kids fought. We got beat by a heavyweight today."
Rice remained confident in his team's ability to be a factor as the season goes on and MAAC play begins, referencing a similar experience with last year's Hawks team when they lost to eventual national champion North Carolina last December and correlating a national ranking with the opposing team's own lofty aspirations. With Seaborn still evolving even as a redshirt junior, the future is bright in West Long Branch, even more so in the form of a freshman class that is already being heralded as the best to come to the Jersey Shore by the man who brought each player there.
"Those kids are -- this is our best freshman class," Rice boldly proclaimed. "It's not even close, and when I say that, people go, 'well, you just lost Justin (Robinson)...' No. This class is our best freshman class in my seven years, and all four of them (Hammond, Marcus McClary, George Papas and Melik Martin) are going to help us continue to grow the program."
"With all that said, I am more than happy with my team. We fought, we tried hard, we got lumped up by a bigger group, and we came back. And I told my kids, 'Don't let anybody write or say they didn't keep playing.' I'm very proud of my team. We're going to continue to work and get better, and I think we'll be a better group later in the year."