Wednesday, December 2, 2015

English erupts for 46, record-breaking 13 threes as Gaels win MAAC opener

A.J. English posted arguably best performance in the nation this season, as his record-setting 46-point performance guided Iona to 101-77 victory in MAAC opener over Fairfield. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The most interesting man in the world on Tuesday night was not he of the ubiquitous Dos Equis advertising campaign.

Instead, it was A.J. English.

Iona's senior point guard may not always break records, but when he does, he certainly puts on a show. Look no further than his masterpiece Tuesday night, when the preseason Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year was simply in another galaxy.

English's 46 points were not only a career high, but also tied the MAAC record, and his 13 three-pointers obliterated the league's previous gold standard as Iona (2-2, 1-0 MAAC) withstood an early challenge from Fairfield (3-4, 0-1 MAAC) to continue their dominance on their home floor, pulling away to a 101-77 victory, the 21st in a row for the Gaels at the Hynes Athletics Center.

"I just thank God," a humble English said after scoring 32 of his 46 points in the second half, connecting on nine consecutive threes. "Honestly, I'm just looking to win. I just thank God that all the shots went in."

"One of the best performances I've ever been a part of," was how his head coach, Tim Cluess, described English's night. "Maybe THE best."

All told, the latest NBA prospect to come out of Cluess' system finished 15-for-25 from the field, and 13-for-19 from beyond the arc. In addition, English added a team-high eight assists to his phenomenal ledger, feeding his teammates for easy baskets in between a shooting display that would make even Stephen Curry blush.

English and the Gaels faced an early challenge, though, as Fairfield showcased its new uptempo attack often in the first half. The Stags, who had four players score in double figures Tuesday night, roared out of the gate with the first eight points of the game, prompting Cluess to call a timeout just 84 seconds into the contest. As Iona heated up, Fairfield pushed them throughout the first half before a pair of free throws, fittingly by English, moved the Gaels into the driver's seat with four minutes to play in the opening stanza.

As Iona took a 47-41 lead into the locker room, Fairfield played the majority of the night without the services of Marcus Gilbert, who turned his ankle with just over twelve minutes remaining before the intermission and did not return. The senior wing, a first team preseason all-MAAC selection, did not score, and his absence proved to have a significant impact on the Stags' production as the game wore on.

"We obviously missed him," head coach Sydney Johnson lamented. "He's our guy. We knew that it was going to be a back-and-forth game, and quite honestly, A.J.'s really good, but we didn't have our 'it' guy, if you will, and I think it would have affected how the game played out."

Fairfield held their own in the beginning of the second half, staying within single digits into the first media timeout, but as English knocked down shot after shot, he put the game out of reach with every NBA-range trifecta on which he connected. Almost four minutes after the Gaels' lead was trimmed to eight points, at 63-55, Iona had a 22-point lead that was, for all intents and purposes, insurmountable with 12:08 remaining in regulation, when English's fifth trifecta of the half capped off a 14-0 run. He would drain four more before the final buzzer, making the signature "A.J. English, fooooorrrrr threeeeeeeeee!!!" call from public address announcer Rich Leaf feel as if it were being played on a loop.

Freshman Jahaad Proctor, who had played just 25 minutes the entire season before Tuesday night, had a breakout game with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and forward Jordan Washington contributed 18 points of his own on an evening where the Gaels converted 18 Fairfield turnovers into 30 points. However, there was no question of to whom the night belonged.

"A.J. English put on a performance for the ages out there tonight," Cluess proudly stated of English's prolific scoring clinic, which ranks as the second-highest total in program history behind Warren Issac's 50-point game in 1964. "I hope everyone got to enjoy it, I'm glad I got a chance to coach it and watch it, and whenever he does that, he makes the game easy for us."

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