While A.J. English carved up Monmouth for 31 points, Rickey McGill's defensive contributions were just as valuable during Gaels' 19-0 first half run. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)
A handful of takeaways from Iona's 83-67 win over Monmouth at the Multipurpose Activity Center, which brought the Gaels within one game of the first-place Hawks in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference:
- Rickey McGill was arguably Iona's most valuable player defensively.
With 14:14 remaining in the first half and the Gaels four points into a 19-0 run that, in essence, completely changed the tenor of the game, Tim Cluess inserted the freshman into the game. What he got from McGill was an intensity that precluded Monmouth from making shots inside, coupled with an efficient nine points and four rebounds in 25 minutes of work. "It was huge," Cluess said of McGill's final stat line. "To get that lift off the bench and the energy he brought, not just his points, he's more athletic than some of the guys we have here although he's a freshman. I think he's been playing better over the last six to seven games. It was really good to get that contribution from him."
- Was the loss of Deon Jones a bigger factor than initially expected?
Depending on who you speak to, there may be concern that the absence of Jones, the senior leader whose defensive mindset set the tone for the Hawks, would have the same effect as Rider's collapse last season after center Matt Lopez tore his ACL. However, a healthy Jones would not have changed much in a game that Iona controlled for most of the night, and King Rice reaffirmed that. "Deon wasn't going to stop their 20-point lead," he openly admitted. "We just got beat by a better team. Tonight, Iona was prepared. You could tell their coaches worked on a lot of stuff. They were ready for everything, and that's the sign of a good coach."
To expand on that topic, Rice said there was no timetable on when Jones would return from his surgically repaired broken hand. The Hawks have three regular season games remaining, beginning with Sunday's trip to Saint Peter's.
- Monmouth potentially clinching the regular season championship was a non-factor in both locker rooms.
"We don't talk about that," a dismissive Rice scoffed when asked if he brought up what was at stake for his team. "That's for all the newspapers and everybody else to talk about. We're just trying to play one game at a time." His counterparts echoed the same sentiment.
"Honestly, I wasn't even worried about that," said A.J. English, whose 31 points led all scorers. "We're just trying to worry about winning another MAAC game and competing for our team, Coach Cluess, and everybody on our coaching staff."
- The state of affairs at Monmouth is still the same, even after a loss.
Rice did not buy into the notion that the Hawks' NCAA Tournament at-large hopes were severely compromised with Friday's loss, instead reaffirming that his team was still atop the conference standings. "We got beat by a better team tonight," he said. "We're still in first place. We're still the best team, just look at the records. Don't get it twisted. We lost a game. We are still a game up with three to go. I know everybody's deal, and everybody's got hard games coming up. We'll see after these three who's where."
- Would Iona and Monmouth welcome a third meeting against one another in the MAAC Tournament?
Our colleague Josh Newman, who continues to do outstanding work covering Monmouth and the MAAC for the Asbury Park Press, asked both coaches that question, and got different results:
"Yes, we would." - King Rice
"No comment. We'll play whoever comes in front of us. Our job is one game at a time, and that's the only way we look at it. We'll play anybody, anywhere, anytime." - Tim Cluess