wow! It’s finally over.
Monmouth’s three-game, season-opening road trip against high-major competition ended with a 103-65 beatdown at the hands of No. 19 Illinois Monday night in Champaign, Illinois.
With the latest loss – the Illini built a 30-point halftime lead at State Farm Arena – the young Hawks limp home having dropped the trio of games by an average of 37.3 points, including a 47-point loss at No. 16 Virginia Friday night.
Having lost all five starters and 85 percent of its scoring from a 21-win team that beat a pair of high-majors, Monmouth was once again overmatched, with a 10-man rotation that includes three freshman, two sophomores and a walk-on .
“We’ll bounce back. We started this way before and we ended up playing for a championship,” said Monmouth coach King Rice, referencing the 2018-19 team that started 0-12 and ended up losing to Iona in the MAAC Tournament title game. “So that’s who I am. I’m going to keep fighting. This year’s team is a bunch of young boys. Get your licks in now because we’re coming.”
The Hawks (0-3, 0-0 CAA) finally take the court in West Long Branch Thursday when they host MEAC favorite Norfolk State at OceanFirst Bank Center in a 7 pm tip.
Illinois (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten), picked in the Big Ten preseason poll to finish second behind Indiana, was led by senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., with the Texas Tech transfer finishing with 30 points, including 21 in the first helped.
Here are five takeaways from Monday’s game:
1. Return to mid-major ranks
It’s tough to know where the nationally ranked talent ends and Monmouth’s inexperience begins, but the last two results were tough after Monmouth was somewhat competitive, save the final 10 minutes of the first half, against Seton Hall.
Monmouth now gets some games that will be better measuring sticks. What we’re going to find out is how resilient this team is, because these kind of loses can impact a team’s confidence. Keeping their heads up will be a critical part of the group’s development.
2. Defense overwhelmed
Monmouth’s defense simply couldn’t contend with the high-powered Illini, who shot 77 percent from the floor in the first half. The Hawks were consistently unable to get out on the perimeter and challenge shooters, as Illinois hit 14 triples, after Virginia connected on 13 three nights earlier. And Monmouth struggled on the glass, getting outrebounded by a 35-21 margin.
“It’s getting us ready for this new league,” Rice said. “The bodies aren’t this big, but we played Towson last year and Hofstra and it’s a much bigger league body-wise, athleticism (than the MAAC). This way at least we’ll have seen guys that are like that.”
3. Rookie production
Freshman guards Andrew Ball and Jack Collins were bright spots in the third game of their respective careers.
Ball scored 10 points in 12 minutes in the first half, including a pair of three pointers, while making some aggressive drives. The 6-8 Ball, a Marlton native who played at Shawnee High School, finished with 13 points, and leads Monmouth with five triples on the season.
Collins, a 6-5 former Manasquan standout, finished with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor.
4. Production needed from veterans
Monmouth has to get more on a consistent basis from its three most experienced players in forward Myles Foster, point guard Myles Ruth and guard Tahron Allen.
Illinois knew Foster is their most consistent offensive threat, and worked hard to limit him in the first half, with Foster eventually finishing with nine points. Between the three, they combined for just 19 points and six rebounds. They had combined for 33 points against Seton Hall.
5. Holmstrom homecoming
Rockford, Illinois native Jack Holmstrom made the first start of his career against the Illini, with a large contingent of family and friends in the stands. The junior guard, whose father played for Rice when he was assistant coach at Southern Illinois, finished with five points in points in 21 minutes.
As for the rotation, there are no reinforcements on the way. With 6-9 forward Jarvis Vaughan expected to miss the non-conference schedule with a knee injury, and 6-9 freshman forward Jaret Valencia redshirting, everyone’s getting a lot of minutes, which hopefully helps by the time they get into CAA play.
‘The wheels fell off’: 5 keys for Monmouth basketball vs. No. 23 Illinois
They say what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. It’s still unclear what the outcome will be for Monmouth.
The schedule hasn’t done this team any favors as the Hawks head into a third straight game against high-major competition. In the wake of Friday’s 47-point loss at No. 18 Virginia, the Hawks brace for Monday’s clash with No. 23 Illinois (9 pm; Big Ten Network) in Champaign, Illinois.
Now Monmouth coach King Rice and his staff must make sure the early gauntlet doesn’t derail the young team’s development.
“The wheels fell off on my boys, and that’s OK. We live to fight another day,” Rice said after the Virginia game. “I told them, ‘guys, this is all on me.’ Hard schedule, and I’ve done it all over 12 years, but just the timing of these three games. We’ll probably play a little better at Illinois because we have an extra day in between.”
Monmouth (0-2, 0-0 CAA) looks to end the road trip with some positive takeaways against a Big Ten power, before Thursday’s home opener against Norfolk State, which lost to No. 5 Baylor by 17 points Friday.
Here are five keys for Monmouth at Illinois (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten). And check back here later tonight for complete coverage and analysis:
1. More quality minutes
Monmouth’s played well for the first 10 minutes in each of its first two games, before getting overrun. Now let’s see if this team can extend that time.
Monmouth’s current 10-man rotation includes three freshman, two sophomores and a walk-on. That makes for a very young second unit, which struggled against Virginia. The absence of Jarvis Vaughan, the 6-9 redshirt junior who was expected to start, has hurt. The hope is he’ll be back from knee surgery for the start of CAA play.
2. Share the ball
When Monmouth’s offense has been flowing early in games, they’re sharing the ball and playing like a team. And when it starts getting out of synch it becomes a series of one-on-one matchups.
Virginia was as good a defense as Monmouth’s likely to encounter, and Illinois is employing a new-look high-pressure defense. Still, committing to running the offense has to be a priority.
3. Avoid foul trouble
In the opener it was point guard Myles Ruth. On Friday it was forward Myles Foster. The experienced players Monmouth do have simply can’t get into foul trouble.
Foster tried to drive to the basket from beyond the free throw line early in the second half and got whistled for a charge, his fourth foul. He’s averaging 14 points and 9.5 rebounds through the first two games, and has to be on the court more than the 18 minutes he logged against the Cavaliers.
4. Take care of the ball
This one can’t be stressed enough. Monmouth has turned the ball over 44 times in two games, resulting in 61 points-off-turnovers for the opposition. Wow. That’s a lot.
Take care of the ball and see what happens. Reduce the sloppiness and give yourself a chance. Focus on cutting their 22-turnover average in half and see what happens.
5. Keep grinding
The one thing Monmouth can control is how hard it plays. One of the ways that manifests itself during the game is defensive intensity. Even if Monmouth’s struggling at the offensive end, it has to keep pressing and communicating at the other end of the court. That includes battling inside – Monmouth got crushed on the glass by Virginia, after holding its own against Seton Hall – and defending the perimeter, after Virginia hit 13 triples.