Friday, January 22, 2016

Iona holds off Saint Peter's, regains MAAC lead behind 19 from Williams

Isaiah Williams' 19 points led all scorers as Iona returned to top of MAAC standings after 64-58 victory over Saint Peter's. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

As he has done frequently this season, Isaiah Williams answered the call with a game-high 19 points and a team-leading eight rebounds on a night in which Iona (10-8, 7-2 MAAC) regained sole possession of first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings, defeating Saint Peter's (8-9, 6-2 MAAC) by the final of 64-58 to snap a two-game losing streak.

"I'm just trying to do whatever it takes for my team to win," said Williams of needing to carry a greater share of the offensive responsibility while Jordan Washington, the Gaels' second-leading scorer, served a two-game suspension for his role in the postgame altercation following Iona's loss to Monmouth a week ago Friday. "If they need me to score, I'm going to just have to score a little bit more and step my game up."

Iona led wire-to-wire, but not without a tense moment in the second half, when Saint Peter's unleashed a 20-2 run to trim a 21-point deficit into a one-possession game, trailing 57-54 with 2:48 to go in regulation. On the Gaels' next trip down the floor, Deyshonee Much, whose 17 points trailed only Williams on the scoreboard, found his senior wing in the right corner, where he knocked down his fifth three-pointer of the evening to extend the lead to six points. The Peacocks responded with a three from freshman Antwon Portley a minute later, but would draw no closer the rest of the way.

"We knew they weren't going to give up, regardless of the score," Williams said of Saint Peter's, who suffered its sixth loss of six points or less this season. "We just had to keep playing until the clock ran out, and that's what I believe we did today."

"After the Rider game, we went back to basics and told everyone they had to earn their starting spot," head coach Tim Cluess said with regard to the increased focus on defense. "Right now, nobody has one. Whoever works the hardest over the next three days are going to be the guys we're going to reward, so we rewarded the guys that we thought put the best effort forth, not necessarily who the most talented players on our roster are, but the guys who play the hardest and want to win the most."

Despite being outscored 14-3 to open the game, and trailing by double digits for the bulk of the game, Saint Peter's managed to outrebound Iona by a commanding 45-31 margin. Leading the charge on the boards was Quadir Welton, whose 12 points and 13 rebounds led to his fourth double-double of the year, and second in a row. Combined with 12 points from Portley and a well-rounded showing from Trevis Wyche, who posted 10 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, there are much more positives to take away for the Peacocks as they begin a stretch of four consecutive games against the top four finishers in the MAAC regular season standings.

"I think we fought," said Saint Peter's head coach John Dunne as he summarized his team's performance. "We didn't fight in the first half at all, and I thought we fought in the second half. We just have to learn from this. Every game is an experience for us."

Saint Peter's returns home on Sunday to face Manhattan, who comes to the Yanitelli Center fresh off a signature win against Monmouth on Thursday, and Dunne is convinced that tonight's game provides a fair measuring stick with the Jaspers awaiting.

"At the end of the day, it is a good feel for where we are," he admitted. "If you don't come with a fearless mentality, you're going to go down by 21, and then if you play with some fearlessness and some passion, you have a chance to beat anybody on any given night. We showed that in the second half."

Next up for Iona will be a Fairfield team who continues to hang around the top half of the conference. The Gaels do welcome Washington back on Sunday, however, and acquitted themselves well in his absence, despite splitting the past two games.

"I'll tell you what, he was the best cheerleader on the bench we could have," Cluess said of his junior forward. "He was keeping guys on the bench engaged, and that might be the most engaged guys on the bench have been for the last two games. I think he helped us that way, and we'll take the split and go from here."

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