While Rickey McGill set career-high point total for second time in as many games, Deyshonee Much was just as important to Iona Friday, going for 20 points in Gaels' road win over Siena. (Photo by Brian Beyrer/Iona College Athletics)
ALBANY, NY -- When Iona last visited the Times Union Center, they exited with souvenirs in the form of a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship trophy and strands of the net en route to their third NCAA Tournament appearance in five years.
While recent history was on the Gaels' side entering their return to the capital of New York, the specter of a surging Siena team still loomed large in a pivotal battle for position behind conference leader Monmouth and upstart Saint Peter's as the MAAC standings have begun to take shape. Fortunately for Tim Cluess, his team was able to channel their March magic at an opportune time.
Led by a career-high 22 points from Rickey McGill and 20 points off the bench from Deyshonee Much, Iona led wire-to-wire Friday night in a decisive 77-66 victory over Siena, the seventh consecutive win for the reigning MAAC champions on the home floor of the Saints dating back to January 2012, when the Gaels were unable to preserve a game-opening 21-2 run and ultimately lost by three that afternoon.
"Anytime you can get a win in our league, it's something that you're happy about," Cluess remarked as Iona (14-8, 7-4 MAAC) won their fifth out of six contests since a loss to Monmouth three weeks ago left them 2-3 in league play. "When you can win on the road, it's even better, and Siena has been playing well, so that really challenged us tonight."
The Gaels rode McGill early and often in the opening stanza, fresh off the sophomore's then-personal best 20-point night in a winning cause last Monday against Quinnipiac. He responded emphatically, scoring 13 of Iona's first 20 points to set the tone for an effort bolstered by Siena's struggles from the floor to start the game.
"I just thought he played with the same intensity factor," said Cluess when comparing McGill's performance to his game on Monday. "Our team did as well."
The Saints (9-13, 6-5 MAAC) rallied entering the final minutes of the first half, going on an 8-2 run culminating in a conventional three-point play by Javion Ogunyemi; whose 16 points matched Marquis Wright for the most by a player on the home team, to pull within two points with 4:11 remaining before the intermission. Trailing 30-28 at that juncture, Siena immediately gave up a layup to Tyrell Williams on the ensuing possession, then fell victim to a three-pointer in transition by Much, triggering a 14-4 run by the visitors to stake a double-digit lead entering the locker room.
"I thought Deyshonee gave us a huge lift off the bench," said Cluess. "This is the Deyshonee we've been waiting for since before the injury, and I thought he played really well. The whole team, I thought, played with good effort."
A Brett Bisping (10 points, 14 rebounds) basket to break the ice on second half scoring brought the Saints within eight points and kept them in earshot, but the vaunted Iona transition game struck again for eight unanswered points as Much and McGill put the Gaels ahead 52-36 with 16:04 on the clock. Siena would not get back within three possessions for the remainder of the game, as another Iona spurt; this one an 11-1 stretch capped by one of five triples on the night for Much, put Iona ahead by 20 and essentially snuffed out any hope of a comeback for a Saints team that had four days to prepare for Iona on the heels of Sunday's convincing win at Manhattan.
"We let them get hot early, and they stayed hot for the rest of the game," said Lavon Long, who was limited to just five points, but provided his usual stat-stuffing numbers once again by also contributing four rebounds and four assists. "It's not like they were going to the basket. They were putting up shots and making them, so things snowballed quickly. It just wasn't our night."
E.J. Crawford (13 points) and Sam Cassell Jr. (10 points, six assists) joined McGill and Much in double figures for the Gaels, while Siena's front line tandem of Ogunyemi and Bisping was augmented by a stellar floor game from Wright, who supplemented his offense with seven assists and six rebounds in a turnover-free effort against Iona's pressure. However, the emotional display of the home team, or lack thereof, was a factor that both coach and players agree must be addressed heading into the second half of the MAAC slate.
"We've got to play with more emotion than that," a candid Jimmy Patsos offered as Siena's 3-for-19 effort from three-point range contrasted sharply with Iona's travails from beyond the arc, as the Gaels connected on 10 of their 23 attempts. "I didn't think I was going to have to give a rah-rah speech. That game was for third place against the defending champs, and I thought they played with more emotion and heart than we did. That's on me as a coach. I thought we were going to come out gangbusters and play really hard, compete and fight. We didn't want to battle tonight."
"If we don't come out ready to go, that's on us as players," Bisping said, echoing Patsos' comments. "The reason we lost tonight is because we didn't come out ready to go emotionally."