Monmouth suffers rare loss, but nonconference takeaways are clear as day
Plus: Trying to stay up to date on the latest COVID cancellations.
WEST LONG BRANCH – During a Monmouth timeout early in the second half Wednesday, a clipboard in the Hawks’ huddle clattered to the floor with force. I didn’t see if coach King Rice tossed it down in anger or perhaps dropped it accidentally, but whatever the case, it occurred with 16 minutes to play as Monmouth faced a 55-37 deficit, tied for its largest of the game.
The Hawks were a different team the rest of the night – “different” relative to how they performed in the first half, but hardly unfamiliar given their prior output all season. Their defense was stronger, Walker Miller caught fire and it seemed as though everyone was taking turns scoring at the foul line.
It didn’t spell a Monmouth victory in the end, as Hofstra hung on, 77-71. Monmouth clawed back to within three points with under three minutes to play. It wasn’t wholly dissimilar to Princeton’s near-comeback at Hofstra a few weeks ago.
The loss ended the Hawks’ nine-game home winning streak that dated back to December 2020 while ending the nonconference slate on a bit of a sour note. In Rice’s eyes, the story boiled down to effort. He lamented scheduling a difficult opponent on the last day before the players’ winter break.
“At halftime, I just told them: ‘Guys, I’m not doing this every game,’” Rice said. “‘I’m not coming in here, going off. Here’s the thing: They’re playing harder than us.’”
“We tried to get it back going,” he went on to add, “but when you let someone play harder than you – you just watch all our games, nobody’s played harder than us and we’ve won 10 out of 13 or however many.”
Ten out of 13 is correct, and to borrow a phrase, it ain’t bad. The defeat hardly throws a wrench into any plans for Monmouth, which is already off to a 2-0 conference start. How hard the Hawks play never came into question when they defeated Cincinnati, Pitt and Yale on the road.
If anything, the loss will illuminate important points the team can learn from and take into MAAC action (can we say MAACtion or does the MAC have their version trademarked?), starting Dec. 31 against Marist.
1. Hofstra has attempted 347 total 3-pointers this season, 17th in Division I, and it makes a good enough percentage of those to keep opponents honest. In roughly 8 1/2 minutes to open Wednesday’s game, the Pride went 6-for-11 from deep to put Monmouth in a hole. They got open look after open look by breaking traps and working pick plays.
“We stopped doubling because we weren’t (hustling),” Rice said. “How our stuff works is, you trap. They’re gonna get out of it sometimes. You sprint off. That’s where we lost the game: We didn’t sprint off today. They have good spacing. That probably made us not want to sprint, because you turn to run, you’re like, ‘Man, nobody’s where the easy spot is. It’s the hard spot.’ And then you don’t run, and then they hit and hit and you can’t catch up.”
It hasn’t been a long-term problem for Monmouth on defense, but consider this: Hofstra’s 35.5 percent from three was the second-highest rate the Hawks allowed in a game this season, exceeded only one game earlier, last Sunday in a win over Colgate, in which Colgate hit an even 50 percent.
2. Monmouth won that game because George Papas was red-hot. He had his second 30-point game of the season, shooting 10-for-14 from the field and 6-for-9 from the arc, and added five assists. But against Hofstra, he shot only 2-for-11 (all from three). A fifth-year senior and the heartbeat of this team, Papas doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. Every shooter has off nights; it’s how his teammates step up on those off nights that I’m curious to see.
All three of Monmouth’s losses have come when Papas finishes under 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from deep. The Hawks certainly can win when he isn’t at his best, but going forward, it’s a matter of doing so more consistently. Miller and Shavar Reynolds combined for 42 points Wednesday, and Marcus McClary’s 10 points and 10 rebounds shouldn’t go overlooked, but there was almost no other offensive production down the list.
3. Miller scored a career-best 26, with 19 coming in the second half. After four years playing meager minutes for North Carolina off the bench, he’s flashed what he’s capable of all season at Monmouth. He scored at all three levels Wednesday, even going a perfect 3-for-3 from long range during the second half.
“Really proud of Walker Miller,” said Rice, who praised his defense in the second half as well. “He’s one of the best dudes in our league and at this level. If he was in their league, whatever league, he’s one of the best big men. He’s showing that night in and night out and he’s just starting to get his confidence.”
That confidence will be crucial to round out Monmouth’s attack during conference play. The center represents a versatile threat that the guard-heavy Hawks will be happy to add.
That’s all I’ve got this morning! Let’s clean the glass with these stray notes and head into the holiday weekend.
Forget everything you thought you’d learned by now about COVID-19 forfeiture policies. In the face of the highly contagious Omicron variant, the Big East changed their collective minds about having league games go down as forfeits when teams aren’t healthy enough to dress seven players. So Seton Hall doesn’t take a Big East loss for the St. John’s game – nor does it receive a Big East win with DePaul calling off Thursday’s game in Chicago. Does this mean Hall-St. John’s and Hall-DePaul will be rescheduled? Not necessarily. The league is working within tight time constraints, and these games now might go down as “no contests” instead of virtual wins and losses.
(The Big Ten also announced Wednesday that it was “in the process of evaluating” — read: re-considering — its own forfeiture policy. The statement was attributed to Dr. James Borchers, the Big Ten’s chief medical officer.)
Back in nonconference news, Rutgers-Rider is now canceled rather than postponed (it will not be made up),
while Rutgers-Central Connecticut State, which was scheduled for tonight at the RAC, is considered postponed. Maybe I’ll get to see Rutgers play Maine next Wednesday, maybe not.Oh, and the Saint Peter’s-Fairleigh Dickinson game I kept hyping up was called off due to COVID protocols for FDU. I think that covers all of them.
Not two minutes after I sent this edition off into cyberspace did Rutgers announce more scheduling changes. Rutgers-Maine was moved to Thursday, Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. Then the Scarlet Knights will play Central Connecticut State on Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. Fans must provide proof of full vaccination or “proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the event,” and only water and soft drinks will be sold at concessions stands until further notice.
Congratulations to Rutgers football for qualifying for the Gator Bowl! This marks a prestigious moment in the program’s growth under Greg Schiano and – who am I kidding, it’s impossible to write about this without some measure of sarcasm. That’s the trouble that befalls Rutgers athletics. Their revenue sports were doormats for so long that this kind of story – a 5-7 team subbing in for a bowl-eligible team knocked out by COVID – will only draw sniffy responses from most corners of the sports world. Instead, in the Christmas spirit, let’s choose to see it as a feel-good story for the players who unexpectedly get one last chance to play together.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah (sorry I missed you a few weeks ago!), Blessed Kwanzaa and Happy New Year. I’m taking Monday off from the newsletter to rest and enjoy family time – there wouldn’t be loads of college hoops to write about this weekend, anyway – and I’ll see you back here in a week.