Monmouth Hawks
Photo by Riley Lorenz

Monmouth ties program record with home win on Senior Day

Before the last home game of the season for Monmouth University men's basketball, the program honored six seniors for a game that was both Senior Day and Black History Night. The PA announcer named the player and some of their accomplishments before they walked out to center court to meet their coach and family.

One of the six seniors and graduate students who played in today's game against North Carolina A&T was Jack Holmstrom. Jack is a humble guy who is a great student according to Monmouth University men's basketball head coach King Rice, but when his name was called out and he was honored as one of the seniors on Senior Day at OceanFirst Bank center in West Long Branch, New Jersey, his coach got emotional.

That one got me a little bit because I coached his father and Jack could have gone to any Ivy League school and gotten all A’s at those schools and he chose here because of me and that one right there is like your son's Ivy League student, and you're sending him to Monmouth?...that says a lot about who their family is and the relationships that we built with his father and his mother since they were on the team that I coached. And for him walking out there, that one almost got me.

- Monmouth University Men's Basketball head coach King Rice

Coach Rice's son is Xander Rice, who has been a starter and ranks second among all players in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) in points per game with 21.1 this season. However, Saturday was senior day and he made sure his dad knew who to start in his place for this game against North Carolina A&T on their home court. Coach Rice described how it felt to know his son was sacrificing his spot in the starting lineup before today's game even started.

"Braedan (Allen) has been incredible on a daily basis. He comes in here and battles our guys every single day, outplays them once or twice a week so for my son to understand the importance of that and for him to step up and say "Why don't you let Braedan start in my spot." That one really hit me." - Coach King Rice

One of the seniors honored at half court included six-foot-ten Nikita Konstantynovskyi who walked out with his aunt who is from the Ukraine. She carried a Ukrainian flag with respect to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. 

Coach Rice described how the war has impacted his starting center and his family.

"Nikita [Konstantynovskyi's] brother is dealing with that war...he's been trying to get his brother out of [Ukraine but] his brothers like ‘no, I gotta protect the homeland.’ Yesterday, he talked to me for 20 minutes just about that...So, you see that and then when he said my aunt is here, she hasn't been home in a long time but she's gonna be here for him. Those type of stories people need to know. This kid is dealing with this while he's trying to be our starting center with the coaches jumping and yelling at him all the time, so these guys have been amazing, and you get to put them out front on senior day." -  Coach King Rice

First Half

When it came down to basketball, Konstantynovskyi won the opening tip-off, and the game was underway at OceanFirst Bank center. The Monmouth Hawks jumped out to an 8-0 lead thanks to two three-pointers scored by Jack Holmstrom. However, the visiting North Carolina A & T Aggies responded with a 12-0 run of their own to take the lead back and make the score 16-12.

Early in the first half, senior and Toms River native Jakari Spence made a perfect pass that found his teammate Jaret Valencia at the rim for an alley-oop dunk. Looking to capitalize on momentum, Coach Rice then subbed in some regulars, including his son Xander Rice. Rice hit a three to tie the game at 18 points apiece, and with three minutes to go in the first half, the Hawks were back in the lead.

The game was a real battle for most of the first half. In the paint, Konstantynovskyi was a bright spot for the home Hawks, battling for position under the rim against the Aggies' big man, Nikolaos Chitikoudis. Meanwhile, the Aggie's bright spot was senior guard Landon Glasper, who wheeled and dealed as the point guard and would end up with 27 points in this game, which led all players.

Up 30-27, Monmouth sophomore Jack Collins drove the lane and hit a lay-up while drawing a foul. He made the free throw to put his team up by six with two minutes to go in the first half. Right before halftime, at the buzzer, Xander Rice received a pass near half-court near the sideline, turned, and heaved the ball at the hoop. His shot banked off the backboard and into the net, sending his team up 41-30 in the locker room as the crowd erupted in cheer.

Second Half

The Hawks may have led by double-digit points at the break, but the visitors would not go down without a fight. The opening five minutes were very physical as Monmouth drew most of the fouls that North Carolina A&T couldn't help but commit due to Monmouth's size advantage. As starter Konstantynovski sat, backup center Klemen Vuga was a big factor, contributing 12 points off the bench and shooting 6-of-8 from the free-throw line.

Throughout the game, Monmouth's two big men, Konstantynovskyi and senior Klemen Vuga were presences in the paint that NC A&T struggled to handle. Both centers converted many shots inside the paint that helped Monmouth stretch its lead. With 13:30 left in the game, Cornelius Robinson Jr. followed up a drive to the basket by Collins, dunking the loose ball to give his team a 56-41 lead, which sent the crowd into a frenzy.

Up until there were seven minutes to go, Monmouth stretched their lead to 21 points by taking a 69-48 lead. With two minutes left and the lead secured, Coach King subbed in a lineup that included all players who have not earned consistent playing time this season: Sam Fagan, Corey Miller, Jack Leahy, Quinn Peters, and Braedan Allen.

It was all Monmouth from there, as Coach Rice's team never looked back and defeated the Aggies on Senior Day and Black History Night by a final score of 83-67. By the end of the game, all six seniors and grad students: Holmstrom, Rice, Konstantynovskyi, Vuga, Holmstrom and Allen had played and after the game, Coach Rice touched on what coaching a senior day was like.

It's great for the kids, for the families. It’s not that cool for the coaches because you don’t have your routine. You throw everything out the window, you’re starting different guys. It just throws you off a little bit but credit to these kids. These guys really pulled together even though our staff was jumping on them...and then they settled down and we were able to have a solid game our defense picked up and then we were able to get away from them a little bit.

Holmstrom, the graduate student guard who was in the starting lineup for this game and finished with a season-high nine points on three 3-point shots, reflected on what getting to start on Senior day was like.

Today's going to be something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life, just coming here and having this family this whole time has been incredible.

Overall, the Hawks outshot North Carolina A & T 46% to 28% from the field and Monmouth's bench contributed 45 points to just 14 from the Aggies.

Saturday's win was Monmouth men's basketball's 13th of the season, putting their home record this season at 13-1. This tied a record for the most wins in a regular season going back 20 years to the 2003-04 season.

Coach Rice's team have two more regular season games left, with their next one on the road against Hampton, who are last place in the CAA standings on Thursday night at 7:00 pm.

Anthony Paradiso
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