Saturday, February 14, 2015

Iona 70, Manhattan 67: 5 Observations

As Iona defeated Manhattan, Schadrac Casimir added another chapter to his budding legacy in just his freshman season. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

In what was billed as the "game of the year" in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, here now is our traditional handful of observations and nuggets of note after Iona won their seventh straight game Friday night, defeating Manhattan by the final of 70-67:
  • First and foremost, the game lived up to the hype.
With 42 media credentials and 16 NBA scouts on hand at a sold-out Draddy Gymnasium, the Gaels and Jaspers put on yet another show, equaling last March's epic encounter for the MAAC championship in Springfield in terms of sheer drama. We'll get to all the particulars later, but here are some stats to take away first:

- Iona's victory gives the Gaels 20 wins for the fifth consecutive season, and head coach Tim Cluess is the only coach in program history with five straight 20-win seasons.

- Four of the last five meetings between Iona and Manhattan have been decided by exactly three points, with the one outlier being an 85-73 Iona victory on January 31, 2014 at the Hynes Center.

- Iona's win was the Gaels' first at Manhattan since a February 4, 2012 victory, coincidentally enough, also by the final of 85-73. To put that in perspective, Mike Glover and Scott Machado were still seniors on the Gaels' roster, while Momo Jones was a junior, and Sean Armand only a sophomore on an Iona team that eventually secured just the second at-large bid from a MAAC school into the NCAA Tournament.
  • A.J. English proved his unselfishness despite going down as the hero.
The junior point guard and contender for MAAC Player of the Year honors admitted he was looking for his teammate Schadrac Casimir (more on him later) on what turned out to be the game-winning possession, but was all about his team after the game. "It really doesn't matter to me," he said of playing in front of a capacity crowd and NBA scouts, a comment that could also describe his feelings toward being the deciding factor in the outcome. "Winning is more important to me. I just work hard, (and) I try to do what Coach (Tim) Cluess tells me to do. I'm just thankful I get to play for Coach Cluess."
  • English's shot won the game, but another star was born.
Just as Emmy Andujar forged his legacy against Iona in his freshman season three years ago, Schadrac Casimir had a similar turn Friday evening. The freshman from Stamford scored 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and admitted that although the sellout gathering was exciting, he was ultimately unfazed by it, as evidenced by his cold-blooded shooting. "Honestly, it was an exciting crowd," Casimir remarked. "It lived up to the hype, but it didn't impact me. In practice, we run so much that I don't even have time to look at the crowd. When the basket goes in, I'm already trying to spread my lane. Before I knew it, I already had the ball, and I was shooting it, but there ain't nothing like a Manhattan crowd."
  • Iona's respect for Manhattan is just as prevalent as the Jaspers' for the Gaels.
Tim Cluess reaffirmed that with his postgame comments about the reigning MAAC champions, who forced 21 Gael turnovers, but were unable to overcome an offensive attack that shot 52 percent from the field and 11-of-18 from three-point range. "If you take away the beginning of the year," Cluess said of the Jaspers, "they're one of the best teams in the league. They have more talent than anyone in the league, and they're very, very good, they're very well-coached."
  • The Manhattan bench came away with quality minutes.
While Emmy Andujar, Ashton Pankey and Shane Richards all led the way, some of Manhattan's unsung heroes stepped up, even if the final box score is not indicative of such. Namely, Carlton Allen and Jermaine Lawrence, and also Zane Waterman, proved such tonight with their clutch rebounding and presence on the floor in the final minutes. "I have a ton of confidence in Zane offensively," Steve Masiello said of Waterman, whose three-point attempt in the final seconds would have tied the game had it gone in. "Offensively, he's terrific. He's going to be a big-time scorer in this league." Of Allen and Lawrence, Masiello said: "CA gave us phenomenal, phenomenal minutes. I thought his size, his activity, I thought he had a good bounce to him. I thought he did a good job of spelling AP, so I was happy with their production, and I thought Jermaine had a good look to him, his urgency was better."
  • Even in defeat, Steve Masiello found a positive.
The coach drew a parallel between this year's Jasper team and the Iona team of 2012-13 who, despite losing six of their last seven regular season games by single digits, came through Springfield as a No. 4 seed to win the MAAC Tournament. "I kind of see that we're a play or two away," Masiello optimistically stated. "We'll get it. I think there's a lot of room for improvement on our end, and hopefully we can capitalize on that."

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