In first game back from foot injury, Deyshonee Much did not miss a beat, scoring 21 points as Iona upended Marist, 90-80. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Tim Cluess had appreciated Iona's defensive efforts in the last three games, where his Gaels held their opponents to an average of 59 points per game.
Today, Iona went back to basics, and still managed to come away victorious.
In a game that reflected Iona's offensive tendencies first and foremost, the Gaels (9-6, 6-0 MAAC) were tested deep into the second half once again, yet found a way to prevail, holding off Marist (4-10, 1-4 MAAC) by the final of 90-80 on Saturday at the Hynes Athletics Center.
"The game was a different style, but we were much better offensively," Cluess assessed shortly after Iona sealed their 26th consecutive victory on their home floor. "Deyshonee Much (21 points, 6 rebounds) gave us a big lift, Taylor Bessick (11 points, 5 rebounds) gave us a huge lift, so I thought we had some extra weapons out there today."
Although A.J. English led all scorers with 24 points and a game-high eight assists, it was Much who made the strongest impact in his first game back from a stress fracture in his foot, amassing 21 points on just 12 shots, connecting on five of his nine three-point attempts.
"The plan was to play 10 minutes today," said Much, who ended up playing 26 minutes in the win, "just to see how it would work out. After I played my 10 minutes, they asked me if I was fine, and I said yes. I guess during the game, it got better. As the game went on, it kind of loosened up."
As it turned out, Much was Iona's biggest contributor when they needed him most, scoring 11 of Iona's final 15 points in the first half and helping the Gaels separate themselves from a Marist team that played much better than they did in their first meeting with Iona. Seeking to avenge a 101-66 defeat at McCann Arena on December 4, Marist was every bit the aggressor as Iona was, leading for a stretch of the first half and keeping the Gaels honest before a 12-4 run swung the momentum squarely to the home bench. The Red Foxes would creep within three with 9:38 to play after an Isaiah Lamb basket trimmed their deficit to 62-59, but they would get no closer after 11 straight Iona points made the hill much steeper to navigate.
"I don't think we played poorly," Marist head coach Mike Maker said. "When the game was close and it mattered most, that's when you could just see that they turned it up a notch or two."
Four players ended the night in double figures for the Red Foxes, led by Khallid Hart's 23 and 21 points from freshman Brian Parker. Marist also picked up career-best outings from Kristinn Palsson (12 points, 8 rebounds) and Obi Momah, whose 11 points were just two shy of his career total entering today's contest.
Marist continues their three-game road trip on Thursday at Rider, while Iona gets a much-needed break before Friday's much-anticipated showdown with Monmouth.
"We need it," Cluess said of the hiatus after completing a stretch of four games in eight days. "Our guys are a little bit beat up right now, so they could use a couple of days to get ready for the next group of games."
Of Friday's meeting with the Hawks, who have garnered nationwide attention for both their impressive slew of non-conference victories and the celebrations of their bench, Cluess is not buying into the hyperbole, opting instead for a classic veteran approach.
"I'm taking it like any other game, just the next game on our schedule," he stated. "They're another good team we're going to play, and we'll see how we do. We'll be ready and I'm sure they'll be ready, so it should be a great game to be a part of."