Friday, January 6, 2017

Monmouth 92, Iona 74: 4 Observations

Chris Brady outplayed Jordan Washington Friday night, scoring 18 points and tallying nine rebounds against MAAC's premier interior presence in Monmouth's win over Iona. (Photo by Monmouth University Athletics)

WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ -- Behind four double-figure scorers and a defensive effort that rendered reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Iona into a 34 percent shooting night from the floor, Monmouth was able to gain a slight measure of revenge Friday, avenging a regular-season loss and last March's MAAC championship game defeat with a one-sided 92-74 rout of the Gaels at the OceanFirst Bank Center. Below are a quartet of takeaways from a night in which Monmouth showed they are still very much a force to be reckoned with in the MAAC, as they ended a three-game losing streak in bold fashion:

1) First things first, Iona is not the typical Iona outfit.
The Gaels are by no means a shell of their former selves just yet, but they are clearly reeling. With Deyshonee Much's future in limbo at the moment, plus Schadrac Casimir still not returning to 100 percent following his offseason hip surgery, Iona simply lacks the same dynamic offensive presence that established them as a perennial MAAC juggernaut. As a result, their defensive lapses have become more glaring and further exposed, prompting head coach Tim Cluess to say the following in regard to a possible remedy:

"I know we have a lot of things we have to fix on our team," he revealed. "Unfortunately, it's not going to be a quick fix. We have to really break it down to basics and start from square one all over again, and it looked like tonight that we were at square one compared to a team that's been together for a while."

2) Big Brady came up big.
Much had been made of Chris Brady's matchup against Iona's Jordan Washington last year, albeit for all the wrong reasons after Washington struck him in the aftermath of Monmouth's win at Iona last January. The Long Island native had a night to remember on Friday, though, approaching a double-double with 19 points and nine rebounds, but more importantly outplaying the foul-prone Washington and contributing to a 38-14 Hawk advantage inside the paint.

"When Big Brady's in there and he's working to get it, when Chris can get it deep and he gets that thing in the air, his jump hook is as good as anybody's," said Rice. "We are supposed to throw it to him on the block when he works to get it on the block. Chris was aggressive tonight. That's the Big Brady we love to see, that's the one we love."

And when Brady gets involved, Monmouth's attack becomes even greater.

"When Chris gets the ball in deep and he's scoring, teams are forced to go down there and help," said Justin Robinson. "And if they don't help, then he's just going to keep scoring. Once they start helping, Chris is a smart basketball player. He can hit guys out and that opens up the perimeter."

3) Is Monmouth-Iona officially a rivalry?
To both fan bases, the answer would presumably be affirmative. To Rice, a seasoned college basketball veteran, he feels it is not at that level yet.

"Is Duke-Carolina a rivalry? Yes," said the former Tar Heel point guard. "Manhattan and Iona? One hundred percent. You have to be up there with them before you are their rival. We keep getting closer. We've got to win this league before we can be considered Manhattan's, Iona's rival, because the last six years, they've been dominant in this league."

"We've closed the gap, I think," Rice admitted. "But to truly say it, we have to win a championship, and then you can say we're getting closer to a rivalry."

4) Revenge? Not so much.
While the memory of last February's 16-point loss to Iona; coupled with the MAAC championship game, may be difficult to extinguish, the motivation for retribution was largely nonexistent, solely because neither team is the same from a year ago.

"I know my guys remember the feeling that we had after the Monday night game, and Coach remembers, but we're not the same team and that's not the same Iona team," Robinson said, injecting clarity into the budding storylines between both programs. "To call it a revenge factor really wouldn't be fair unless we had the same two teams playing each other, and then we got the win. Tonight, it was 2017 Monmouth versus 2017 Iona, and it was a good game."

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