Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Iona pulls away in second half for third straight win over Manhattan

Schadrac Casimir posted second 20-point game in last three contests, leading Iona with 21 as Gaels pulled away in second half of 82-67 win at Manhattan. (Photo by Brian Beyrer/Iona College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- Nearly two years ago, Schadrac Casimir made quite the first impression in his introduction to the Iona-Manhattan rivalry, scoring 22 points as the Gaels exited Draddy Gymnasium with their first of two regular season victories against the rival Jaspers.

History repeated itself Tuesday night, as the redshirt sophomore found a similar groove, backing up a 27-point night against Canisius nine days ago by leading all scorers with 21 markers as Iona shook off a fast start to post a decisive 82-67 victory, their fifth against Manhattan in the last six meetings between the two schools.

"My coaches and my teammates, they're telling me to be aggressive," said Casimir, whose comeback from two hip surgeries and an unrelated procedure for a sports hernia has seen him post 20 or more points in two of the Gaels' last three games. "I'm taking care of my body off the court, and when I get on the court, they have confidence in me."

Casimir shot 7-of-9 from the floor, and made each of his three attempts from behind the three-point line, a performance that could not have come at a more opportune time, as Iona (11-8, 4-4 MAAC) lost Jordan Washington just 59 seconds into the second half when the senior forward picked up his fourth foul.

"These guys stepped up in such a big way and made up for not having him," head coach Tim Cluess said of both Casimir and Jon Severe, who scored 18 points of his own against a Jasper team he was already intimately acquainted with from his time at Fordham. "Taylor Bessick did a phenomenal job, but our guards actually got in and rebounded and defended. They took it like, 'we can't rely on someone else and we have to move the ball on offense better.' I thought our flow was really good after Jordan got into foul trouble, and I thought we found a little bit of a groove out there."

Just as they did in their last contest against Iona, Manhattan (7-12, 2-6 MAAC) came out shooting well, going into the intermission shooting 58 percent from the floor and forcing Washington into an 0-for-7 effort in the opening stanza. The Jaspers were the primary aggressor through much of the first half, which ended tied at 43 after Rickey McGill beat the horn on an attempt from just over the halfcourt stripe, but a 25-8 Iona run over the final 11:41 of regulation proved to be too much for the home team to overcome as they tried to sweep a three-game homestand.

"I thought the last eight minutes was the difference," Steve Masiello assessed. "They pulled away, made some tough shots. We had some breakdowns and turnovers. We gave up 13 offensive rebounds, and when you're basically playing against four guards all night, you can't do that."

Zavier Turner led Manhattan with 20 points, while Zane Waterman followed up his 35-point tour de force against Rider with a workmanlike 15-point tally. Rickey McGill, who once verbally committed to Manhattan before having a change of heart and signing with Iona, joined Casimir and Severe in double figures with a dozen points, registering five assists as well.

Iona returns to the Hynes Athletics Center Friday to host a Fairfield team that has now dropped three straight after their most recent setback Tuesday against Saint Peter's, and a resurgent Casimir could be just the right pick-me-up for the reigning MAAC champions as they look to re-enter the fray near the top of the league leaderboard, where Monmouth is currently two games ahead of the Gaels.

"He's definitely much further along than where he was," Cluess said of Casimir's progression. "He still isn't that same aggressive player that he was as a freshman, but he's showing signs of it. I thought he carried it over into the game tonight, and I also thought he's starting to break things down, get into the gut and make plays for guys, and that's who he is when he's healthy."

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