Deyshonee Much's four-point play in final minute of overtime gave Iona cushion necessary to outlast Saint Peter's and secure regular season sweep of Peacocks. (Video by Brian Beyrer/Iona College Athletics)
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- One of the most distinguishing marks of a champion is its adaptability to any condition they are faced with, especially those that are adverse to their normal style.
Taking on Saint Peter's for the second time this season, Iona was dealt the ultimate contrast in styles, their run-and-gun tendencies colliding head-on with the deliberate, quicksand-like tempo favored by the Peacocks. And despite having their moments of struggle with the slower speed, the Gaels found a way to win, something they have turned into a calling card of sorts over the years.
First surviving a late rally in the closing minutes of regulation, the Gaels were then outhustled in the opening possessions of overtime, but a Deyshonee Much four-point play inside the final minute of the extra session gave the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions all the cushion they needed, hanging on to defeat Saint Peter's by the final of 69-66 at the Hynes Athletics Center to secure a season sweep of the Peacocks.
"I just thought the kids played their hearts out and never gave up," head coach Tim Cluess assessed as Iona (15-8, 8-4 MAAC) clinched a tiebreaker over Saint Peter's by virtue of their season sweep, moving into second place in the league standings. "It was a different tempo game for us, and our guys just gutted it out tonight."
Iona's standard offensive bright spots, including a 13-for-23 showing from three-point range and exceptional sharing of the basketball; with 19 assists on 24 made field goals, were more lustrous than usual given their adjustment to Saint Peter's and their methodical nature, something Sam Cassell Jr. alluded to in the wake of the Gaels' sixth win in their last seven contests.
"I knew it was going to be a tough game," said Cassell, whose 17 points led all Iona scorers and matched Saint Peter's Trevis Wyche for the highest total of the afternoon. "We played Saint Peter's in December, and it was a gut-check game. I had to bring all my energy and play straight from the tip, and my teammates just fed me the ball and put me in spots where I could make shots."
The Peacocks (12-10, 8-4 MAAC) were able to prevent Iona from getting in transition more than in their December 2 encounter at the Yanitelli Center, which the Gaels won going away in the MAAC opener for both schools. To their credit, they kept Iona on the ropes throughout the day, keeping nearly the entire second half within two possessions despite squandering a 32-28 halftime lead.
"I thought we controlled the first half really well," John Dunne conceded, as the Peacocks asserted their will amid Iona shooting 55 percent from the floor and draining six of their eight three-point field goal attempts. "The second half, their energy level was really, really good, but I thought we settled back into the game. The fact that we just played our seventh game in 15 days and had a chance to win with two seconds left, I'm very, very proud."
Saint Peter's stormed back with a 10-3 run to answer Iona's 52-45 lead, tying the score at 55 with 5:08 to go in regulation. Iona responded a minute later with a Cassell triple, and the Peacock defense managed to hold Iona to just one point over the final 3:58 of the second half, getting baskets from Nick Griffin and Quadir Welton; the latter on a tip-in of Wyche's missed layup, to provide the 59-all deadlock that warranted five extra minutes.
The Peacocks scored the first three points of the extra session, only to surrender consecutive baskets to Jordan Washington (15 points, seven rebounds) as Iona tipped the scales in their favor with 92 seconds left in overtime. On the ensuing possession, Wyche split a pair of foul shots to tie the game for a ninth time, but a Rickey McGill rebound of an errant trifecta attempt by Jon Severe afforded the Gaels a second chance. Severe got the ball back, then fed Much on the left baseline for the coup de grace as Chazz Patterson leaned into the junior wing on his release.
"He's been coming around in the last few games and last few practices," said Cluess of Much, who scored 20 points in Friday's road win at Siena and backed that effort up today with 13 points and eight rebounds. "In the games he's rebounded well, he's played well. I love the fact that he's not just being that one-dimensional, either I'm a shooter or I'm not. He's making things happen on the court in different ways, and I was happy he made that big shot for us, because we're still trying to get him back in that groove of 'when I'm open, shoot the ball.'"
Saint Peter's got a three-pointer from Griffin on the next trip down the floor to pull within one, and still had a chance to tie the game following two McGill free throws. After Patterson got his own rebound off a misfired attempt from distance, Griffin came up empty from beyond the arc as well, but Taylor Bessick was whistled for traveling while coming down with what appeared to be the game-winning rebound.
The Peacocks, with a newfound lease on life, were unable to capitalize, as McGill deflected a Patterson inbounds pass to seal the victory, furthering a growth period since a January 6 loss to Monmouth that has positioned the Gaels as the perennial contender that they have come to be recognized as.
"We're getting better," Cluess opined. "There's still a long way to go and a lot of areas we can improve on, but I think our guys are understanding what we want out of them a little bit better, and I think they're understanding on both ends of the court what they're supposed to be doing."