Rickey McGill's career-high 20 points matched a personal best from teammate E.J. Crawford as Iona avoided season sweep against Quinnipiac, defeating Bobcats 84-74. (Photo by Brian Beyrer/Iona College Athletics)
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- In his seven-year tenure as head coach at Iona, Tim Cluess had never experienced the short end of a regular season sweep in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play, and only seven home losses.
Across the court, perennial rebounding giant Quinnipiac; owners of an overtime win against the Gaels nine days ago in Hamden, threatened to slay the dragon once again and for 31 minutes, nearly succeeded before Rickey McGill took matters into his own hands.
After the visiting Bobcats tied the score at 57 with 9:41 remaining in regulation, the sophomore point guard scored 12 of his career-high 20 points to prove the deciding factor as Iona (13-8, 6-4 MAAC) walked off the Hynes Athletics Center floor with an 84-74 victory over Quinnipiac, keeping them in a tie for third place in the conference standings and ensuring that their in-season supremacy remained intact for the near future.
"I didn't feel like I had to take over," said McGill, whose production matched freshman E.J. Crawford's own 20-point night, a personal best for him as well. "I just felt like when I was going, it was necessary buckets. Every time I had a mismatch, I'd just get to rim and get layups, and it was going in."
McGill flirted with a triple-double for the majority of the evening as well, ending the game with eight rebounds and seven assists to supplement his offense as the Gaels bolstered their efforts with a commanding 51-34 smackdown of Quinnipiac on the glass, something Bobcats head coach Tom Moore lamented after the game.
"Minus-17 is disappointing," he ruefully conceded with regard to the rebounding margin. "I didn't think we were very tough at the beginning of the game. It manifested itself in the rebounding stats. I didn't think we had enough team toughness early in the game, and those were the places it seemed to catch us."
"I think the most impressive thing for us was how we rebounded the ball tonight, after giving up nine offensive rebounds in the last five minutes of the game," Tim Cluess countered. "I thought our guys did a much better job tonight."
Despite Moore's evidence to the contrary, the Bobcats (8-12, 5-5 MAAC) actually did fight hard in the opening stanza, remaining within earshot of Iona through most of the period and responding from an 11-0 Gaels run to trail by just seven points at halftime. The second half saw a single-digit affair for the majority of the frame, with Quinnipiac tying the game at 57 following an exchange in which Cluess was assessed a technical foul shortly after Jordan Washington was charged with his fourth personal foul, evening the score on a pair of Mikey Dixon free throws. But the Gaels would recover to take the lead with four straight points from McGill, and after a Dixon three-pointer brought the visitors within one, a 10-4 run by the reigning MAAC champions slammed the door on any hopes of a Bobcat sweep.
Crawford, the talented freshman wing, picked up the slack in the first half, and again down the stretch when Washington landed in foul trouble, and provided the perfect wing man for McGill's explosiveness in crunch time.
"He's one of the best players on the team, so when he gets out of it, we've got to step up," said Crawford of Washington's absence and how it motivated he and his teammates to raise the bar. "That's what me and Rickey did."
Jon Severe and Sam Cassell Jr. joined both McGill and Crawford in double figures, going for 17 and 13 points, respectively. For Quinnipiac, Peter Kiss' 20 led the way in the losing effort, while Dixon battled his way to 16 points after being held in check for most of the first half, but it was the difference-making ability of McGill who elevated the Gaels to the victory.
"I think he's getting familiar with what we run and where guys are, what he can take advantage of, and he's working hard," Cluess said of McGill's maturation this season. "Defensively, he worked hard tonight, and you could just tell his overall effort was a lot better. He's just a tough, hard-nosed kid who brings effort all the time, and he just wants to win. I thought his personality took over our team tonight."