Sunday, March 1, 2015

Isaiah Williams' return gives Iona renewed options and familiarity entering MAAC Tournament

With Isaiah Williams back in Iona's rotation, Gaels are able to not only get extra production, but also return to press defense many critics tend to forget about. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

For everyone involved in Iona's victory over their longtime adversary Manhattan, the 79-75 outcome Friday night signified the latest example of just how formidable the Gaels can be.

Another member of the roster saw things a different way, for good reason.

"I was happy, excited to help my team," Isaiah Williams said after seeing the floor for the first time since January 13, sidelined for twelve games due to a broken bone in his foot that required surgery to insert a screw into the fifth metatarsal. "I can't really describe it. I was just happy to be on the court again."

Williams, who posted 12 points and seven rebounds in his first 32 minutes following an injury from which he admittedly has not fully recovered, was not the only one expressing jubilation in a comeback that, at least around New Rochelle, could be considered overdue.

"In my opinion, I think David (Laury) and him are the better players on the team," A.J. English; arguably the most valuable component of the Iona roster from a box score perspective, remarked of Williams. "I'm just thankful that he's back on the court. We missed him a lot."

As anyone who has watched Williams can attest, the junior from Newark can beat an opponent in many ways, be it his lethal three-point shot that has connected at a 46 percent clip, putting the ball on the floor and taking efficient shots, or even by serving as a facilitator by spacing the floor for the likes of English, Laury, and Schadrac Casimir to contribute to the efforts on the scoreboard. But what many others do not see, and a lot of it is due to the nature of the offensive attack when the ball is in the Gaels' hands, is just how much he helps the defensive efforts, no matter how much every detractor of the wide-open, entertaining style of basketball Iona employs makes it a point to ignore them.

"We've always pressed here," head coach Tim Cluess reassured after a victory in which Iona played a defensive style that some thought mirrored the pressure defense Steve Masiello has installed at Iona's rival, Manhattan, but one that resembled the look of Cluess' teams featuring Mike Glover, Momo Jones and Scott Machado. "When Isaiah got hurt, we stopped doing it, out of lack of depth. Tonight, we just picked our spots and started reintroducing it a little bit. It's a fun style of play for our guys, and I think it gets you going on both ends of the court."

Williams' defensive ability; he averages over one blocked shot and nearly two steals per game for the Gaels, is a facet of game planning that is nearly impossible to account for given how he can both play and defend multiple positions, a true X-factor of sorts because he creates true mismatches, something a certain opposing head coach knows all too well in his experiences of trying to stop him.

"It's a tough problem," Steve Masiello assessed when asked whether the return of Williams would make Iona even more dangerous than they currently are as a postseason team. "I don't know what you do," he added, "and that's why Tim's a much better coach than I am, because he'll figure it out. There's too many options to have. It's like Baskin-Robbins."

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