Sunday, January 8, 2017

Resurgent Casimir goes for 27 as Iona runs over Canisius

Schadrac Casimir exploded for 27 points as Iona rebounded from loss to Monmouth with 23-point win over Canisius. (Photo by Brian Beyrer/Iona College Athletics)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- In the wake of a decisive loss to Monmouth on Friday, Tim Cluess said it would not be a quick fix when it came to correcting the rhythm on an Iona team that had struggled in its last two games.

It turns out that maybe all the Gaels needed was a little home cooking.

Back at the Hynes Athletics Center for the first time since December 31, the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions turned their string of four losses in five contests into a distant memory, recovering from a 13-2 deficit in the first three minutes to post a 98-75 win over a Canisius team that entered today's contest with a seven-game win streak to establish themselves as the hottest team in the MAAC.

"It was a long two days, let's put it that way," Cluess quipped when asked if anything changed in his team between the Monmouth game and their affair today, one in which a 20-2 run that resembled a more familiar Iona effort ultimately changed the game. "I think our guys played with a lot more intensity, I think Schadrac Casimir came in and gave us the lift we were looking for and the player we were hoping to see again, and I thought all the guys really came in with an effort-based mindset. It was all about defending, all about sharing. It was about the team the whole night and not letting up."

Casimir in particular was the biggest revelation, leading all scorers with 27 points, shooting 9-for-12 from the floor and making seven of his nine three-point field goal attempts in his first start of the season. It was the highest point total for the redshirt sophomore since posting 22 points in a February 2015 win over then-eventual MAAC champion Manhattan, and a glimpse of what the 5-foot-10 dynamo used to win unanimous Rookie of the Year honors and a second team all-MAAC honor two years ago.

"I got off to a hot start and made my first two," said Casimir, who is still fighting through the aftereffects of three hip surgeries that have sacrificed his explosiveness in the past. "When I made the third one, my confidence just went through the roof. I just tried to keep being aggressive and get to the open spots, and my teammates did a good job finding me out there."

The Gaels (10-7, 3-3 MAAC) received another stellar outing from senior forward Jordan Washington, who contributed 20 points in a disciplined effort that saw him commit only one personal foul, while Rickey McGill continued his underrated ball movement to the tune of a career-high 14 assists to complement an equal amount of points for the gritty sophomore guard.

"It's got to happen again next game," Cluess advised with regard to McGill's evolution in the backcourt. "That's the maturity factor for him right now is that he shows he can do this in certain games. He's got to continue to understand that that's what makes him and us go. He's got to keep that mindset of pass first, score second."

Iona's victory did not look as though it would be in the cards early, as Canisius (10-6, 3-2 MAAC) came out of the box firing on all cylinders, riding a pair of three-pointers from Kassius Robertson into an 11-point lead that forced Cluess into a timeout with just 2:47 gone by. But the Golden Griffins' hot start proved to be smoke and mirrors for a team whose flight cancellation due to the snowstorm that hit the New York metropolitan area Saturday forced them into alternative means of travel, something that may have played a factor in their performance on the floor.

"We scored some points early, but I didn't like the vibe at the opening tip," head coach Reggie Witherspoon conceded. "The vibe was terrible to start the game. We scored some baskets early and it hid it a little bit, but the coaching staff was wondering what was wrong, and eventually it showed."

As the Gaels went on their defining run, they maintained a double-digit advantage for the final 25 minutes of the game after an EJ Crawford three increased the lead to 12 points at 41-29. Iona would lead by no less than 11 the rest of the way, yielding just four three-point field goals Canisius after conceding each of the Griffs' first three attempts, using their patented floor spacing to take them out of their element. Jermaine Crumpton led the visitors with 21 points in the losing effort, while Robertson was the lone other double-figure performer, tallying 15 markers of his own.

While Canisius regroups and heads to Bridgeport for a pivotal battle with Fairfield, who is currently tied for the MAAC lead, Iona gets a much-needed week off before road games against Quinnipiac and Manhattan, taking a pick-me-up of sorts with them as they will be able to rest Jon Severe, who suffered a hip flexor injury against Monmouth in addition to rolling his ankle against Fairfield last Monday. The two maladies were the reasoning behind Cluess not giving his senior guard as many minutes today, but in his stead, two other members of the backcourt picked up the slack, most notably Casimir.

"We said before the game that for us to be competitive, one of our guards has to have a game like that," Cluess admitted. "You can't go out there with your guards all the time and go 0-for-3, 0-for-4 depending on how many guys you're using. We just needed one of them to play well and let other guys piecemeal around it. Today, it was Ced, and I was really happy for him because if he was going to have a good game like that, it was going to be here at Iona. He's really comfortable on these courts, he's confident here."

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