ALBANY, N.Y. — On Monday night, the Monmouth Hawks battle back from one of the most surprising non-conference stretches to play for a shot at the NCAA Tournament in the MAAC Tournament final at 9:00 PM on ESPN2.
It’s been a season of wild swings.
Just couple of months ago, Monmouth was 0-12, and not close in many of their games. An overtime win at Penn gave them their first win, before getting dropped at Iona.
A month later, Monmouth was 9-4 and streaking, looking like a plausible one-seed in the MAAC Tournament; rival Iona was 5-6 in the league.
A month after that, Monmouth dropped four straight close ones and ended up in the Thursday night first round, watching a Niagara three for the lead rim out to ensure the opening round win.
It’s been a wild, wild season for the Monmouth Hawks. King Rice, angry and frustrated during the losing streak, was telling reporters in December that his team did not play together, celebrating little baskets and didn’t finish games.
Now he has his team on the brink of an NCAA Tournament berth.
Rice credits support from the Monmouth athletic administration for getting him through the tough times.
“We didn’t start well,” Rice said after the win over Niagara on Thursday. “For whatever the reason is. Maybe I scheduled too hard. But we were 0-10. People were on social media saying I should get fired, athletes from our school were saying I was the worst coach.”
But he figures Athletic Director, Dr. Marilyn McNeil, heard the buzz.
“She called me in the office,” Rice continued, “and she said King, you have nothing to worry about. You. Are. Our Coach. You’re doing an incredilbe job.
“And I said, Dr. McNair, ‘I hate losing.’ And she said ‘I know you hate losing. But your job is more than just basketball games, your game is running a program. You’ve taken our program to places that we weren’t sure we would be able to go. So I just want you to know – you are going to be the coach at Monmouth.’
“And when she said that, I could relax.”
Relatively. King Rice continues to be an intense figure on the sidelines, aware of slights, protective of his players, working the referees, and cognizant of how fleeting the life of coaches (like his MAAC counterparts Chris Casey of Niagara and Sydney Johnson of Fairfield, both let go on Monday) can be.
“We all signed up for this and when It doesn’t go your way, there’s always a chance that they might come tap you on the shoulder,” Rice said. “But I have the best boss. Coaches need support too. We all need support. There’s not many people to talk to in the middle of the season when you’re 0-10.”
Tonight’s game, five nights later, will define a gritty snapback for the Hawks.
“Our beginning of the season record never defined us,” said guard Ray Salnave. “We’ve had to do a better job of being consistent, giving the maximum effort on the floor. It’s a new season, it’s win or go home. We’ve had a long trip, I don’t think anyone ready to go home after one night.”
“I packed for five days,” Diago Quinn added.
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