Saturday, March 5, 2016

Iona reaches sixth straight MAAC Tournament semifinal, wins handily over Canisius

A.J. English began his final MAAC tournament with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as Iona reached semifinals for sixth straight year with 73-55 win over Canisius. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

ALBANY, NY -- Then as it was, then again it will be.

For the sixth straight season, Iona's run through the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament will reach the semifinals, this after the Gaels (20-10) were fueled by 13 three-point field goals in a 73-55 win over Canisius (14-19) at the Times Union Center.

"I'm very proud of my guys for how hard they played tonight and how well they played, offensively and defensively," said head coach Tim Cluess, whose streak of recording 20 or more wins in each season since assuming the reins in New Rochelle also continued with Friday's victory.

Just as they did in last year's conference tournament before they were upended by Manhattan in the championship game, A.J. English and Isaiah Williams led the brigade, combining for 38 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 of Iona's 19 assists.

"These two young men, we could not have done any of this without," Cluess said, directing praise toward his two seniors. "Without both of them, we wouldn't be where we are the last several years, and I'm blessed to coach them."

Iona and Canisius matched each other shot for shot in the opening minutes before the Gaels ripped off a 15-5 run midway through the first half to take a double-digit lead. A 14-4 spurt shortly after the intermission was all second-seeded Iona would need to outlast a Golden Griffins team competing on short rest following Thursday's triple-overtime win against Niagara.

"They're in second place, but I feel they're the best team in the league," said Canisius head coach Jim Baron, making no excuses for his team against the Gaels. "They hit some big, big shots. They're a good basketball team."

Iona will face either Siena or Manhattan in a highly anticipated semifinal matchup on Sunday, but the name on the jersey does not matter to a victorious Gaels side.

"The preference was for us to play on Sunday," Cluess frankly stated, "and the preference worked."

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