Litmus Test: Konstantynovskyi’s Double-Double Soars Monmouth to Victory over Rider
West Long Branch-- Six was the total of games won by Monmouth (6-5) just a season ago. Knowing the amount of talent that's emerged onto the hardwood this year, the Hawks looked to get their sixth win in 11 games to open up the year with their matchup against Rider (2-8).
Freshman Jaret Valencia opened up the game on fire, making back-to-back three-pointers to give the Hawks an early 6-0 lead. Coming into the game, Valencia had made one shot from behind the arc out of eight attempts this year.
"His potential is probably the highest on the team," Coach Rice said about Valencia. "He showed his athleticism today. We're working on getting a few pounds on him, but I truly believe the sky's the limit for him. He just needs to keep working."
Another key to the success on the court today was the defense early by the Hawks, forcing four turnovers over the course of the first four minutes.
The hot-hand of Monmouth continued early in the first half as the Hawks began the game 4-for-4 behind the arc, three of which came from Valencia. Rider called an early timeout as Monmouth held a 16-9 lead.
"I knew today was going to be a battle," Rice said. "I just knew how that was gonna go today. We had to run tight today and only played with seven in our rotation, so we knew it was going to be a challenge."
Freshman Abdi Bashir came off the bench and scored in a hurry, draining a deep three in the faces of the Rider defense. Monmouth saw themselves with a 23-15 lead halfway through the first half.
Rider didn't go away easy, going on a 14-5 run to take their first lead of the day. Monmouth didn't let that lead last for long, grabbing it right back in an instant. Nikita Konstantynovskyi had significant minutes on the court, scoring 10 of his team-high 21 points while holding a 32-31 lead for the Hawks.
"I think it's all about being physical at the rim," Konstantynovskyi said. "It opens up so many things in general for the entire team when you can win the battles down low."
The Hawks closed out the first half by going on a 12-6 run, closed out by a three-pointer by former Manasquan standout Jack Collins. The Hawks entered the locker room at halftime up 44-37 and seeing themselves shoot 63% from behind the arc.
Last weekends hero in Jakari Spence got the second half started for the Hawks, taking one hard to the bucket and delivering on an and-one. The hot shooting of Collins carried over into the second half, scoring on a wide open three pointer and giving the Hawks a 51-40 lead.
As the game developed, Konstantynovskyi only got better. As the boards continued to crash down into his hands, the lead continued to remain with the Hawks.
The Hawks saw their lead go all the way to 17 after Valencia hit his fourth three-pointer of the game, which was followed up by a monster alley-oop by him assisted by Xander Rice.
"Jaret's awesome on the court," Konstantynovskyi said about Valencia. "We've been able to build on so much all season long and it's only going to get better."
Konstantynovskyi saw himself at the line with under five minutes to play, looking to ultimately seal the deal for the Hawks. Composed as he was all game, he drilled both free throws and saw himself with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Monmouth was able to close the game out without any scare, defeating Rider 77-71 and moving to 6-5 on the season. Monmouth shot 51 percent from the field, while the Hawks capitalized 11 times behind the arc.
“We obviously have Alexander scoring a lot of points for us, but that doesn’t mean the other guys can’t score the ball the way they did today,” Rice said. “That is a credit to them for being selfless and not worrying about points and other things. All these kids can score and I've been saying it this entire time. This group has been incredible from the beginning. This is a special year for me with my son playing for me. This group is fun and we’re young."
The Hawks will host Manhattan at home on Thursday followed by a New Years Eve matchup at Oklahoma to wrap up 2023.
"I gave 'em off the next two days, Sunday and Monday," Rice said. "We practice too much anyways. We have a really tough one coming up against Manhattan and then we look to have some fun closing out the year with Oklahoma."