(This story appeared in the January 27th issue of The Outlook, the student run newspaper of Monmouth University).
After an impressive nonconference resume with road or neutral site victories over UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Rutgers early in the season, the men’s basketball team has padded their resume for a high seed in the MAAC Tournament and, possibly, an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament over winter break.
The Hawks, who will play Quinnipiac on Thursday, Jan. 28 at the TD Bank Sports Center, went 6-1 during the break and have played Manhattan and Marist since then, falling to the Jaspers 78-71 at Draddy Gymnasium on Thursday, Jan. 21 and defeating the Red Foxes 83-72 on Jan. 24 at home. MU picked up an impressive 110-102 victory at Iona on Jan. 15, snapping The Gaels’ 26 game winning streak at the Hynes Athletic Center. MU’s other loss was a 91-84 defeat to the Army Black Knights up at West Point, NY on Dec. 28.
Junior guard Justin Robinson became the 22nd player in Monmouth history to score 1,000 career points in the Hawks 85-69 victory over Siena on Jan. 18.
“It puts you in the record books of the school and it shows that he’s a very versatile player,” head coach King Rice said of his junior guard’s accomplishment. “I’m sure he will continue to work his way up the scoring list. But the kid that he is, Justin wants what’s best for our program. He would give up all the points if we could win more and continue to win more games next year. That’s just who he is as a young man. That’s what makes him so special to our program and everybody knows we are lucky to have him.”
That game also saw the first career points for sophomore guard Dan Pillari, the head of the Monmouth Bench Mob. Pillari walked onto the men’s team a season ago and scored seven points in the victory, going 2-2 from downtown as well as 1-2 from the free throw line.
“Everybody locally understands that Dan Pillari can play basketball,” Rice said. “He tore us up in practice the other day; everything was going in for him. That kid shoots the ball as well as anybody, and the speed of the game is starting to slow down for him. Don’t be surprised if before he’s done, he can contribute outside of practice and sometime in a game.”
After losing the opening game of conference play to Canisius on Dec. 4, the Hawks have gone 7-1 in MAAC conference play. They defeated the Golden Griffs in a rematch at The MAC by a score of 81-66 on Jan. 4 in a game that sat 2,731 fans in the first home game over winter break. The other two home games, an 88-74 victory over Quinnipiac on Jan. 9 and the Siena game were announced as sell-outs.
“If you go to high school games around this area, the local people support,” Rice said. “We have to get people in New Jersey who love college athletics to come over here all the time. It’s great for the kids and it’s a tremendous atmosphere. Our school has done a tremendous job of making it fun in the arena. We just have to play well and the fans will keep coming and we really appreciate all their support.”
Even over winter break, the student section was nearly filled for each home game.
“I think that’s awesome and it’s a credit to these young men,” Rice said. “The students come because these guys have been on campus and they go to other sporting events and support them. When I first got here one of our main things was talk to the students and let them know who you are because you see them every day. The students who are at the games are their friends and classmates. They see each other on campus all over the place and that is a credit to these guys for getting out of their comfort zone and talking to everybody around campus.”
In between the home game against Quinnipiac and the road game at Iona was an 86-74 victory against the Fairfield Stags at Webster Bank Arena.
Monmouth has recorded three sell-outs in their five home games. MU’s next home game is on Saturday, Jan. 30, with a 7 p.m. tip-off against Saint Peter’s that can be seen on ESPN3.