A.J. English was catalyst for Iona again, going for 26 points as Gaels capped off season sweep of archrival Manhattan with 79-75 win over Jaspers. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)
A day that began with a debate over blue and black versus white and gold ended with two familiar colors reigning supreme once again, as they have for many an occasion at the Hynes Center.
Maroon and gold, and lots of it, too.
Two weeks removed from their first win at Draddy Gymnasium since 2012, Iona backed up their effort in their turn to host their local foe separated by just fifteen minutes and 9.3 miles, leading nearly the entire way and getting to the finish line four points ahead of Manhattan in a 79-75 victory over the Jaspers.
"We're really happy with the win tonight," head coach Tim Cluess assessed after his Gaels (24-6, 17-2 MAAC) not only swept Manhattan (15-13, 12-7) for the first time since his first season at the helm in 2010-11, but also clinched an undefeated 13-0 home record five days after Iona wrapped up its third regular season MAAC championship in four years. "They're turning into great games every time we face each other. Kudos to them for coming in and competing this hard, and kudos to my team for finding a way to win."
Behind a game-high 26 points from A.J. English, who connected on four three-pointers in the victory, Iona also relied on their transition game to get a second decision over Manhattan, forcing 19 points off 11 turnovers and outscoring the Jaspers 21-11 on fast breaks.
"I think Iona does things that no one else in the country does," Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said of the Gaels; who saw Isaiah Williams score 12 points in his return from a foot injury. "That's why they're so dangerous in a tournament, one game, no preparation. If they get a good matchup, and they get a team that tries to go up and down and tries to space them and play them zone, that's going to play into Iona's hands, and they can make noise."
Iona took advantage of Manhattan's defense in the opening minutes. Following a Shane Richards three that put the Jaspers ahead 5-4, the Gaels went on a 14-4 run to go up 18-9, with an English dunk captivating a sellout crowd in New Rochelle. The Jaspers would draw close, but it was the Gaels who punched back throughout the opening stanza, taking a 41-35 cushion into the locker room.
Seven unanswered points to begin the second half, a run that culminated in an English three, boosted Iona's lead to 13 points with 16:03 remaining in regulation. Manhattan would never get within one possession the rest of the way, as every time the Jaspers scored, Iona followed suit; or every time a stop was forced on the defensive end, the Gaels came back with one of their own.
Schadrac Casimir, whose shooting helped guide Iona to a victory two weeks ago in the first matchup between the schools this season, added 15 points, and David Laury battled his way to a double-double, overcoming a 3-for-13 night from the floor to register 13 points and 11 rebounds. In the losing effort for Manhattan, Ashton Pankey led the way with 20 points, while Emmy Andujar added another solid performance in what could be his final game against a team who has been the victim of some of his greatest success stories, posting 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Manhattan heads into Sunday's matchup with Quinnipiac needing a win to secure the No. 3 seed in the MAAC Tournament, which would assure the Jaspers of avoiding Iona until a potential third straight championship game showdown. On the other bench, the Gaels left their home floor with a second celebration, this one highlighting just how much this program has not only grown, but maintained both prestige and support.
"It says a lot about the place and the fans here," Cluess remarked when asked about his team's perfect home record. "They're the best fans in college basketball, as far as I'm concerned. I love this place. What these people do, how they inspire our team, the way they support us, is phenomenal. Tonight, they were loud the entire night. It was great."