Saturday, February 14, 2015

English's game-winner lifts Iona past Manhattan

A.J. English's 22 points tied for game high, but none were bigger than game-winning three in final minute, as Iona scored 70-67 win at Manhattan. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

It was billed as a local and conference Super Bowl, and just like the football game twelve days prior, it featured double-digit leads, comebacks, and a game-winning play inside the final minute.

After letting a 12-point lead evaporate midway through the second half, Iona (20-6, 13-2 MAAC) responded to every Manhattan rally, counterpunching the Jaspers (12-12, 9-6) every step of the way down the stretch to defeat the reigning MAAC champions by the final of 70-67, as A.J. English's three-pointer with 29 seconds remaining in regulation gave the Gaels their first win at Draddy Gymnasium since February 4, 2012.

"I saw the mismatch," said English of the possession that resulted in the junior point guard's heroics, as Ashton Pankey switched out to guard the junior floor general. "Honestly, I was looking for Schadrac Casimir."

Casimir, the freshman guard who also had 22 points to match English, combined with his backcourt partner to shoot 14-of-25 from the field and a staggering 10-of-15 from three-point range, factors that helped Iona open the game on a 17-7 run. But as they have done throughout the season, the Jaspers refused to cave in, unleashing a 16-4 run to pull within one point of the Gaels before six straight points going into the intermission gave Iona a 37-30 lead entering the locker room.

The Gaels and Jaspers matched each other shot for shot for the first several minutes after halftime, only for Manhattan to counter with a 10-0 run capped off by a Shane Richards three-pointer with 9:16 remaining in regulation to give the Jaspers their first lead of the night at 52-51. The advantage only lasted six seconds, however, before Casimir's three spurred on an outburst of seven straight Iona points, which wrested the lead into the hands of the visitors, giving the Gaels a 58-52 cushion. However, Manhattan had yet another run in them, a 9-4 edge to pull within one before a Kelvin Amayo trey from the left corner with 2:00 to go extended the Iona lead to four, at 65-61.

The Jaspers tied the proceedings at 65 on an Emmy Andujar layup with 53 seconds to play, setting the stage for the theatrics that ultimately decided the outcome. Taking nearly all of the shot clock, English calmly took matters into his own hands, stepping up to the left arc and draining a three over the 6-10 Pankey that prompted his coach to marvel at his composure after the game.

"In all fairness," Tim Cluess conceded, "that's a gift. It's not something you can teach to everyone."

Manhattan had a final chance to send the game to overtime after forcing 21 Iona turnovers, but Zane Waterman's attempt fell off balance and into the hands of David Laury, who ran out the clock as the Gaels ended a two-game losing streak to their archrivals.

"I'm just really proud of my team for my effort tonight," Cluess said. "Both teams played their hearts out. For our guys to win on the road against pretty much anybody, that's a good thing."

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