Less than two weeks after they opened their season with an upset win at UCLA, Monmouth picked up its first-ever win over a team ranked in the AP Top 25.
Two Justin Robinson free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as King Rice’s Hawks upset No. 17 Notre Dame at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, and the diminutive point guard was a problem for the Fighting Irish all night.
Robinson scored 22 points, with 14 of them coming from the foul line as Notre Dame’s guards struggled to keep the quick guard contained off the dribble. He was one of three Hawks to score in double figures, and their combination of depth and athleticism proved problematic for Mike Brey’s team. All five Notre Dame starters scored in double figures, with Demetrius Jackson’s 20 leading the way, but the lack of depth proved problematic as the game wore on.
Notre Dame didn’t get a single point from its bench, with Matt Farrell and Matt Ryan combining to play 28 minutes. That lack of depth not only cost Notre Dame Thursday night, but it’s something they’ll have to figure out if they’re to be a contender in the ACC. Jackson and Steve Vasturia ran into foul trouble against Monmouth, and the lack of a bench option capable of picking up the slack led to Monmouth building up a ten-point lead in the second half.
Notre Dame tried to account for that by slowing down the tempo, but in doing so they struggled to find quality looks against the Monmouth defense. And given the players at Rice’s disposal, it’s tough to slow the game down against a team that can get after you on both ends of the floor.
Monmouth entered this season with expectations of contending for a MAAC title alongside the likes of perennial favorites Iona and Manhattan, and their start to the season backs up that belief. With two players in Robinson and Deon Jones who have earned all-conference honors during their careers and a host of contributors that includes guards Je’lon Hornbeak and Micah Seaborn, this is a group to keep an eye on as the season wears on.
Because if they can earn a bid, Monmouth’s non-conference schedule will have them prepared for the NCAA tournament.
Monmouth’s perimeter rotation, which was already going to be deep in 2015-16, will have another player to call upon as they look to be a factor in the MAAC race.
6-foot-5 guard Micah Seaborn, who sat out last season as a non-qualifier, is expected to be eligible to compete for the Hawks this upcoming season. According to Josh Newman of the Asbury Park Press, Seaborn needed to complete 24 credits in order to be declared eligible to play with the guard stating on Twitter Saturday that he’ll be able to suit up for King Rice’s team.
Seaborn completed his high school career at Prime Prep in Dallas, Texas, and he’s one of two guards the Hawks will add who sat out last season. The other is Je’lon Hornbeak, who played two seasons at Oklahoma before transferring to Monmouth in 2014.
Hornbeak was able to join his teammates on a trip to China this spring, something Seaborn missed out on due to his need to shore things up academically. Adding these two to a perimeter rotation that will be led by veterans Justin Robinson and Deon Jones, the Hawks’ top two scorers from a season ago, gives Monmouth a nice boost.
The question for the Hawks as they look to compete with likes of Iona, Manhattan and Siena in what should be an entertaining MAAC race, will be whether or not the front court can make its mark. With Brice Kofane, the team’s leading rebounder last season, out of eligibility they’ll need more production from centers Zac Tillman (4.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg) and Chris Brady (4.0, 3.0).
Having won their last three games, the Monmouth Hawks will enter Thursday’s game at Saint Peter’s with an 11-5 record in MAAC play and they trail Rider by a game in the race for second place. And King Rice’s team will welcome back its third-leading scorer for that game, as guard Andrew Nicholas has been medically cleared to return according to Joshua Newman of the Asbury Park Press.
Nicholas, who’s averaging 8.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, missed the last four games after suffering a concussion in the days leading up to the Hawks’ February 5 game against Quinnipiac.
“It was definitely frustrating because I’m on my last homestretch here,” Nicholas said Wednesday after practice. “It was fun to watch those guys, though. They won three out of four when I was out and they played really well. I’m excited to get back, jell with these guys again and if we can win these last four games, we can really get on a run going into the (MAAC) Tournament.”
With the MAAC having an 11-team field for its conference tournament, landing one of the top three seeds can be advantageous. In the quarterfinals those teams will face a team that played the day before, with seeds six through 11 having to play in the opening round.
The return of Nicholas helps Monmouth on the perimeter at both ends of the floor, as he’s one of the Hawks’ better three-point shooters and also a solid defender. Nicholas has made the second-most three-pointers on the team with 34 (Justin Robinson’s made 44 three-pointers), despite sitting out the last four games.