Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Iona withstands Drexel's late charge to score 23rd straight home win

With A.J. English and Schadrac Casimir still on shelf, Isaiah Williams led Iona with 19 points and 10 rebounds as Gaels held off Drexel, 77-70. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Isaiah Williams took a moment Monday evening to reflect on Iona's latest home win, stating the team would much rather prefer an ugly victory any day of the week as opposed to a loss, something that had not happened in New Rochelle since January 2014.

As the cliché states, a win is still a win, no matter how you slice it.

After being staked to a 19-point lead over the first nine-plus minutes, only to almost cough it up down the stretch, the Gaels (5-6) managed to prevail, surviving an upset-minded Drexel squad in a 77-70 triumph over the Dragons (2-9) that marked Iona's 23rd consecutive victory at the Hynes Athletics Center, preserving the ninth-longest home winning streak in the nation.

"I'm proud of our guys for finding a way to win tonight," Tim Cluess would say afterward. "In a tough game that let get a little too tough, I give credit to the other team for battling back the way they did."

In an opening half where Iona had seemingly everything go their way, leading 25-6 and making 12 of their first 17 shots, hardly anyone could have expected the end result to be decided by single digits, even when the Gaels rebuilt their 19-point advantage with 10:21 to play in regulation, leading 60-41. But Drexel fought back, unleashing a 12-4 run to creep within four possessions before later ripping off a 13-3 spurt that brought the Dragons within two points, at 72-70, with 1:38 remaining.

The visitors would get no closer, even after having multiple chances to tie the game after Jordan Washington (15 points) made one of two free throws to allow Drexel a chance to pull even on their ensuing possession. A missed layup and subsequent putback attempt by Rodney Williams was the first dose of relief for Iona, but an offensive rebound gave the Dragons a chance to reset. Tavon Allen then heaved an NBA-range three for the tie, but his shot misfired. A second offensive rebound by Williams gave Allen, who scored his 1,000th career point in the first half, a second opportunity, but an off-balance triple attempt from the right baseline bounced off the backboard. Iona secured the rebound and iced the game at the free throw line, as their opponents missed their final seven shots to conclude a hard-fought game that served as the Gaels' finale for the calendar year.

"They missed a few foul shots, we started making some baskets," Drexel coach Bruiser Flint surmised. "Against them, you've got to be able to score a little bit. If you don't score, they're going to run you off the floor because they score. That's what they do."

Sophomore guard Sammy Mojica led Drexel and all scorers with 20 points, tying a career high. Four Gaels ended the night in double figures, paced by a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double from Isaiah Williams, who picked up the slack once again as A.J. English and Schadrac Casimir continue to be listed as day-to-day while nursing their respective hand and groin injuries. For the victors, their final tuneup before conference play resumes Saturday against Quinnipiac was one in which health concerns were put aside when assessing what lies ahead in the remainder of Iona's 20-game league schedule.

"You can't worry about what lineup you have," Cluess cautioned. "You have to go out and play your hardest, and you have what the cards deal you out. The team I put on the court, I want them to go out and be successful."

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