Seton Hall knew coming into its game against Monmouth that it was a different type of game than the grueling double-overtime contest they had just played against Mercer, but one thing was the same: the opponent never quit.
Despite leading by as many as 26 points, Seton Hall had to put some of its starters in to protect a comfortable 82-66 win on Monday at the Prudential Center. Both teams though managed to show some glimpses of what may be to come this season. Here are five thoughts.
1) Deon Jones has the potential to be an elite scorer in the MAAC: Monmouth’s redshirt sophomore transfer from Towson was aggressive all game and even against SHU’s pretty athletic frontline he was able to get space and drive to the basket. One surprise this season has been Jones’ ability to knock down the three and he hit 3-5 on Monday. Jones finished with 24 points on 8-15 shooting. He had seven rebounds, but also five of Monmouth’s 14 turnovers.
2) Patrik Auda had a breakout game: Auda tantalized Pirates fans for two seasons with potential and right when he seemed ready to take center stage he lost last season to injury. The 6’9″ redshirt junior is back with a vengeance. He was almost unstoppable against the smaller Hawks scoring 27 points on 8-9 shooting from the field and 9-9 from the line. He also had 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in just 22 minutes. Now, Auda won’t have such an athletic advantage come Big East play, or even in Friday’s game against Oklahoma, but he certainly showed a big flash of potential.
“I thought [Auda] played great,” Kevin Willard said. “This is what I envisioned for him as he came off his sophomore into his junior year.”
“That kid is good,” King Rice said about Auda. “I don’t know what anybody’s talking about. All I know is that a whole bunch of teams need him right now.”
3) Monmouth’s youth is a challenge, but potentially an advantage too: Even though the Hawks got down by 26 points with 11:53 remaining, Rice’s team never quit. The team is coachable and seems to have bought into Rice’s preaching of maximum effort and tough, scrappy defense. Of course it was also Monmouth’s youth that caused the problems in the first place. The Hawks had 12 turnovers in the first half as SHU built a 13-point lead. Monmouth also shot just 17-31 from the free throw line.
“I looked out there a couple times and said, ‘I have four freshmen and a sophomore,'” Rice said. “We fought hard.”
4) Where does Monmouth stand now?: The Hawks certainly have flaws, but they also look like a team that can compete in the MAAC. Some of the elite teams in the conference will cause Monmouth problems, especially the ones with veteran forwards, but the Hawks should be pesky. Andrew “Red” Nicholas didn’t have his best game against SHU and if Rice can get him and Jones playing well at the same time the Hawks will surprise some people.
“When I get Deon and Red clicking together we’ll be a hard match up because they’re the guys that have been in college,” Rice said. “They’ve been through it.”
Also, the eight freshman on the roster have some talent. Justin Robinson might be 5’8″, but a game after finishing with seven turnovers against Penn he didn’t have a single one in 22 minutes. Instead Robinson had seven points and five assists. There is certainly a question of who he’ll guard, but his offensive skills are impressive. The starting center, 6’10” Zac Tillman is raw, but has a wide body and could certainly develop into an important piece down the road. Josh James provides athleticism and play-making ability off the bench.
“We’re coming along really well and we’re going to be there soon,” Jones said. “We’ll get there.”
5) What did we learn about Seton Hall?: That’s tougher to say. By his own admission SHU head coach Kevin Willard messed with his rotation a bit to see some different players get extended minutes on Monday, especially up front. Auda and Stephane Manga (14 points, six rebounds) delivered strong performances that will help them compete for minutes in the rotation. The team is still pretty dependent on Sterling Gibbs’ ability as a playmaker – he had 16 points, four assists and no turnovers in 28 minutes – and Fuquan Edwin’s ability to make shots – though he hit just one of six on Monday. There’s definitely potential, Willard just needs to find a way to tap into all of it come Big East play, which is where the fate of SHU’s season will be determined.