Monmouth basketball stuns Drexel, 69-67, as Hawks win third straight

WEST LONG BRANCH – In terms of dramatic turnarounds, Monmouth basketball looks like it’s in the midst of one for the ages.

The team that started the season at 1-20, including a 32-point loss to Drexel in Philadelphia a month ago, won its third straight Saturday, beating Drexel, 69-67, at OceanFirst Bank Center.

The latest moment in what has been a 17-day surge by the Hawks comes less than 48-hours after Drexel knocked off Colonial Athletic Association leader Charleston in dramatic fashion.

“We were young and they got on us,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “Well, we have grown a lot, and we are more prepared for their bodies, we’ve been through it now. Nobody likes losing and our guys have a lot of pride, too. These guys can play basketball and when everybody is in a new role, every person in a role they’ve never done, well, it takes some time - now there are breakthrough happening.”

Sophomore guard Tahron Allen led Monmouth back from a 12-point halftime deficit with 19 points, while junior forward Myles Foster added 15 and freshman guard Jack Collins chipped in with 12.

Monmouth's Jakari Spence drives against Drexel at OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch on Feb. 4, 20233.
Monmouth's Jakari Spence drives against Drexel at OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch on Feb. 4, 20233.

“Our goals today were to take care of the ball, rebound and out-team Drexel,” Rice said. “We’ve been talking about out-teaming people. Because some people might have more talent than our team or they might be older, but if we out-team them we can beat any team. And that is what we’ve been doing recently and I am happy for these guys.”

Monmouth (4-20, 3-8) took a 61-59 lead on a Collins 3-pointer from the side on a fastbreak with 6:37 remaining. But Drexel (13-11, 7-5) answered with a 7-0 run of its own, with a Jamie Bergens triple giving them a 66-61 lead.

Foster scored inside with three minutes to play, making it a one-score game. Then Collins scored off an offensive putback with 1:50 to play, and got fouled after grabbing a defensive rebound at the other end, sinking both free throws to put Monmouth back on top, 67-66, with 1:34 remaining.

After center Amari Williams then sank a free throw with 1:22 on the clock to tie the game, Monmouth took a timeout.  It resulted in Foster grabbing a Collins miss and getting fouled inside with a minute to play, making both to put Monmouth up 69-67.

The Hawks got a defensive stop, eventually calling their final timeout with 22.5 seconds left, and eight seconds on the shot clock. Spence missed a shot in the paint, with Drexel taking a timeout with 3.8 seconds left. The result was a desperation 3-pointer by Williams at the buzzer that missed the mark.

Second half rally

Monmouth opened the second half with a 18-3 run, with a long 3-pointer by Jakari Spence with the shot clock winding down, followed by a 17-footer by Allen and a transition layup by Jarvis Vaughan moments later evening the game at 45-all. The rally closed a 3-point play by Allen to give Monmouth a 48-45 lead.

After Drexel regained the lead with a pair of buckets, it was Allen converting another 3-point play on a drive to put the Hawks back on top.

“(Rice) talks to me every day about if I just slow down I can see so much more and everything opens up for me,” said Allen, averaging 18.2 points over the last four games, including back-to-back 19-point efforts and a career-high 23-point outburst. “So my mindset is to just go into every game with confidence finding my offense through the defensive end and just taking my time on offense. “

Monmouth opened the game by racing out to a 6-2 lead, Drexel countered with a 13-0 run, including a trio of 3-pointers, to grab a 15-9 advantage. The lead stretched to nine points several times, but the Hawks were able to keep it in single digits. The backbreaker came when Drexel got back-to-back offensive rebounds to keep the possession alive, eventually leading to a wide open 3-pointer by Lamar Oden Jr., who drained it to give Drexel a 38-26 lead.

Monmouth went cold late in the half, before a three-point play by Allen pulled them within 40-30, before Bergens hit a short jumper with two seconds left to send Drexel into halftime with a 42-30 lead.

This was the second home game during a stretch of five home games over a seven-game period.

“We’ve got three opportunities - the non-conference schedule, the regular season and the postseason,” Foster said. “We’ve been putting our head down in practice every day, working hard, and we’re trying to make the best out of our situation, trying to make a run in the tournament. So it starts now, every single day just coming and giving our best effort, playing for each other and playing hard and trying to give ourselves the best chance against these teams.”

Monmouth's Myles Ruth drives against Delaware on Feb. 2, 2023 in West Long Branch.
Monmouth's Myles Ruth drives against Delaware on Feb. 2, 2023 in West Long Branch.


Monmouth basketball vs. Drexel: Why second half of CAA schedule looms large

WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth is 1-0. Sort of.

Because back in November, there was a sense that the young Hawks would ultimately be judged on their performance over the second half of their first-ever Colonial Athletic Association schedule.

So if you look at a strong effort in a loss to then-No. 18 Charleston, a near-miss at UNC Wilmington and a win at North Carolina A&T as part of a promising preseason, Thursday night’s home win against Delaware was a good start in a nine-game slate.

And for Monmouth (3-20, 2-8 CAA), Saturday’s visit from Drexel (13-10, 7-4 CAA) looms as an intriguing rematch, with the Dragons having beaten the suddenly-hot Hawks by 32 points in Philadelphia back on Jan. 7. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m., with the game broadcast on SportsNet New York and NBC Sports Philadelphia, and streamed on FloSports.

Here are five keys for Monmouth, as the Hawks look for a third straight win:

1.  Core seven

Monmouth has found seven guys they’re rolling with right now, with defense what gets you on the court. The tight rotation includes junior forwards Myles Foster and Klemen Vuga inside, starting guards Jakari Spence, a junior at the point, sophomore Tahron Allen and freshman Jack Collins, with junior guards Myles Ruth and Jack Holmstrom off the bench.

2. Defensive commitment

Monmouth’s defense has shone bright over the last week, holding its last three opponents to 39, 37 and 35 percent from the floor in succession. They’ve given up 19 three-pointers in those game, which isn’t bad for a team that’s given up 10 triples or more on 10 difference occasions.

3. Protect the ball

Monmouth’s 10 turnovers equaled its second lowest total of the season, with Delaware scoring just eight points off turnovers. When turnovers result in fastbreak points at the other end it changes the complexion of a game, and that’s been one of Monmouth’s Achilles’ heel this season.

4. Two points better than one

Monmouth went with a two-point guard lineup when Ruth came in to join Spence wit Delaware leading 24-15 with 5:32 left in the first half. They were on the court together the rest of the half, with Monmouth going on a 10-5 run to pull within 29-25 at the break. In the second half, both were on the court together in the final minute, hitting six free throws between them in the final 43 seconds.

5. Homecourt advantage

This is part of an important juncture, with Drexel the second in a seven-game stretch in which Monmouth plays five times at home. The crowd of 1,597 had good energy Thursday night. It was Monmouth’s first home win since beating Quinnipiac on Senior Night last March 3, a span of 336 days.

Monmouth's Jakari Spence drives against Delaware at OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch on Feb. 2, 2023.
Monmouth's Jakari Spence drives against Delaware at OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch on Feb. 2, 2023.

From Thursday

Monmouth basketball tops Delaware, 70-62; Here are 5 takeaways from Hawks' second straight win

WEST LONG BRANCH – After going 54 days without a win, Monmouth now has two in five days.

The Hawks' recent rise continued Thursday night with their first home win of the season, a 70-62 victory over an experienced Delaware team that went to the NCAA Tournament a year ago.

After a 16-point win at North Carolina A&T last Saturday, Monmouth (3-20, 2-8) rallied from an 11-point deficit late in the first half, opening the second half with a 17-6 run to take control, before putting the game away with some solid play late.

“Credit to these kids," Monmouth coach King Rice said. "They’re making it exciting, and I just told them I’m so excited for them because we haven’t won a lot and to come in on a night like this, and the crowd to be so supportive - I am thankful for the kids because they have not hung their heads at all. They’re fighters.”

With Monmouth leading 59-52, Delaware got a three-pointer by Gianmarco Arletti with 1:15 to play. Myles Ruth then sank one free throw with 68 seconds to play, before Jameer Nelson Jr., who finished with 20 points, hit a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game. But a Myles Foster score inside with just under a minute left, followed by a defensive stop at the other end, giving Monmouth some breathing room late.

Foster led the way with 14 points, while Tahron Allen, with 12 points, Ruth with 11, and Jack Collins and Klemen Vuga with 10 points each, all hit double figures.

In addition to Nelson, Delaware (12-12, 4-7) got 12 points from Jyare Davis.

It was the latest sign of progress for Monmouth, with the lopsided losses that dominated the early season having disappeared. The defensive intensity is more consistent and the offensive output has improved. And now, as the Hawks officially enter the second half of their first Colonial Athletic Association schedule, they're showing how competitive they’ve become over the past few weeks.

It all began at the tail end of a 1-20 start, including taking a halftime lead against then No. 18 Charleston, before having a shot to tie the game at the buzzer on the road at top CAA contender UNC Wilmington. The Hawks closed the road trip by snapping a 12-game losing streak with a win at North Carolina A&T last Saturday.

"We’ve beaten two of the better teams in the conference right now just on how hard we’ve played," said Collins, who picked up his second CAA Rookie of the Week award last week. "Shot are falling because we’re making that extra pass, making that extra look."

As the second half got underway, Allen scored a pair of quick baskets, the second on a tough drive, before a score by Vuga inside cut Delaware’s lead to 33-31. Then Collins drained his first three-pointer of the game, which Jakari Spence following with a steal and feed to Foster for a layup at the other end to put Monmouth on top, 39-35, with 13:53 to play. A Jack Holmstrom corner 3-pointer extended Monmouth’s second half-opening rally to 17-6.

Monmouth's Jack Collins lines up a shot in front of the Delaware bench at OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch on Feb. 2, 2023.
Monmouth's Jack Collins lines up a shot in front of the Delaware bench at OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch on Feb. 2, 2023.

Delaware rallied on the strength of its perimeter shooting, as Cavan Reilly sank a pair of three-pointers, followed by another from Nelson. But Monmouth was able to maintain its advantage, with a Foster score inside off a Collins drive-and-dish extended the lead to 51-46. Collins then was fouled taking a three-pointer, sinking all three free throws to give Monmouth a 54-46 lead with 6:10 left.

Here are five takeaways from Monmouth's second straight win:

1. Defensive stand

It’s Monmouth’s consistent intensity at the defensive end that has made a huge difference recently. They held Delaware to 35 percent shooting for the game, and 29 percent from the perimeter.

“I thought our defense really did a good job of setting the tone," Rice said. "I think we tried to trap a couple of their guys, we definitely wanted to trap Nelson because he is such a big-time player there’s only so much you can do against him one-on-one – we tried to do some different things to mess with them. Credit to our guys tonight for just staying the course on the defensive end."

2. Strong paint presence

Foster, at 6-7, and Vuga, at 6-9, have banded together to control the paint in recent games, with their respective styles complimenting each other. Vuga just missed a double-double with nine rebounds, as Monmouth held a 38-35 edge in rebounding, and a 36-16 in scoring in the paint.

“Playing with Myles, he’s such a big presence in the paint, he makes it a lot easier,” Vuga said. “There is usually one bigger, dominant player, but me and Myles can work in the paint together, either me or him down low and if we keep good spacing we can get even better.”

3. Confidence growing

You can see the confidence building at both ends of the court. Offensively, Monmouth hit 70 points for the second straight game, and scored 45 points in the second half against Delaware.

“You never get used to losing, but these guys go into every day the same way, going hard, being aggressive and working on what we have to do to make ourselves better and not worry about anyone else,” Collins said.

4. Sharing the ball

It’s not often that Monmouth has more assists than turnovers, but it happened in this one, getting 12 assists to go with just 10 turnovers. Not only was Monmouth’s passing sharp, particularly on the interior, Delaware got just eight points off turnover.

“We have obviously had turnover problems,” Rice said, “and I talked to them that turnovers are either careless or selfish, and these kids are not selfish kids. So most of them are careless and probably bad planning by coach because we go to fast. These guys are all in new roles this year.”

5. Three-in-a-row?

Monmouth has a chance to extend its winning streak Saturday when the Hawks host Drexel at 2 p.m. It’s an intriguing measuring stick to see just how far Monmouth has come, with Drexel having beaten them by 32 points in Philadelphia on Jan. 7.

Monmouth players gather around head coach King Rice during a timeout against Norfolk State on Nov. 21, 2022 in West Long Branch.
Monmouth players gather around head coach King Rice during a timeout against Norfolk State on Nov. 21, 2022 in West Long Branch.


Monmouth basketball coach King Rice says job security not a concern in 2-20 season

WEST LONG BRANCH – A lot has been said about Monmouth basketball this season, with the Hawks starting 1-20 before getting their first-ever Colonial Athletic Association win Saturday at North Carolina A&T.

And after a practice this week, coach King Rice had his say.

When asked what he’s seen from his team since returning from a successful road trip, snapping a 12-game slide, Rice on Tuesday said the recent performance is a reaction to what he feels has been speculation about his job security, while citing his past record and contract status as reasons why it's not an issue.

“I think the kids are excited that the coach has a five-year deal, and when everybody has things to say, they want to support their coach," he said. "So I think that’s what happened.”

Pressure had been building on the program during what had been a 55-day gap between wins, and Monmouth responded with its best game of the season against the Aggies, taking control over the final 30 minutes en route to a 79-64 victory.

Rice received a five-year contract extension, which runs through the 2025-26 season, after Monmouth got a share of the MAAC regular season title during the pandemic-impacted 2020-21 season.

“We do everything for each other,” Rice said. “The coach has a five-year deal and they hear a lot of stuff so I am sure they, you know, we protect each other around here. I’ve got a great contract to be the coach at Monmouth. So I’m sure they’re probably tired of everybody having things to say so they played well.”

In an interview with the Asbury Park Press last week, Monmouth athletic director Jeff Stapleton gave Rice and the program a vote of confidence moving forward.

More:Monmouth basketball is 1-19. What the AD says about coach King Rice, program’s future

“I think we’re going to be OK. Over 33 years of being here, this is not a pattern at all. Every program has its ups and downs, and I think we’ve been really successful under King,” Stapleton said. “He’s kept us near the top of the MAAC for those years, now we’re in a new league. I feel for how hard the coaches work and the athletes, and they are working hard and they’re just not getting the results they want right now.”

In his 12th season, Rice has a career record of 184-187. His teams won or shared the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season title three times in the Hawks’ nine seasons in the league, with Rice named Coach of the Year three times.

They went 21-13 last season and lost in the MAAC Tournament championship game to Saint Peter’s, which went on to reach the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight. It was the third time Monmouth had come within a game of returning to March Madness for the first time since 2006, losing to Iona in the final in 2016 and 2019.

“We’ve been building towards getting better,” Rice said. “All we do is what we do. I keep working, I keep my head low. Try to represent this school to the best of my ability. This year my team has been struggling, my body of work has not been a struggle, so having a five-year deal makes everybody understand that.”

While Monmouth does not release contract details, the school’s 990 tax form for the 2019-20 school, the most recent available, lists a base salary of $512,909, with another $61,899 in estimated other compensation. That appears to be in line with other CAA coaches. Delaware’s Martin Ingelsby, who brings the Blue Hens to OceanFirst Bank Center Thursday night, had a base salary of $430,319, with estimated other compensation of $55,344 for the same school year, according to the school’s 990.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth NJ basketball stuns Drexel, 69-67, as Hawks win third straight