Iona's defensive effort left Tim Cluess noticeably satisfied after Gaels yielded just 51 points to Manhattan five days after allowing more than double that against Rider. (Photo by Brian Beyrer/Iona College Athletics)
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- It was a total 180-degree turn from Sunday's final score.
Five days removed from surrendering 103 points to Rider in a one-sided loss, Iona clamped down defensively, allowing just 51 points to Manhattan in a 21-point blowout that served as the largest margin of victory against the Jaspers since the 2010-11 season. The Gaels will try to build off Friday's effort in their final regular season contest against Monmouth on Sunday, but we leave you with a handful of takeaways from the transpirings before a sellout crowd at the Hynes Athletics Center in the interim:
1) The part of Iona's game nobody talks about...outside the locker room.
Reputed for their offense, the reigning MAAC champions receive little or no credit for what they do on the defensive end, which will make Friday's score surprising to casual observers. Inside the program, though, nothing could be further from the truth.
"That's what we always talk about," Jordan Washington revealed. "We don't talk about offense or anything, we just talk about defense, defense, defense. Helping each other, getting each other's back, that's what we have to do. That's all we talk about, straight defense."
2) Riding the hot hand.
Iona usually has two or three players who handle the lion's share of the offense. Friday was an exception, as four Gaels contributed double-figure scoring nights to the winning cause, headlined by Deyshonee Much's 19 points. However, Iona's success is not predicated; at least not by design, on just one man.
"As teammates, it shouldn't be 'let me get mine,'" said Much. "If one guy's standing out on a certain night, then we just find ways to get him the ball. We all practice the same thing. Iona's been known for being able to shoot the ball well, and we're all doing that. Whoever comes out hotter, as teammates, we find a way to get him the ball."
3) Much love for Much.
The Gaels' explosive wing admitted he felt more confident Friday night, and his teammates were the source of inspiration on that front.
"We picked him up," said Washington, who posted a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. "Every time we see Dey down or anything, we've always got to come as a team and bring him together."
4) Hitting their stride at the right time again?
Iona first showed their championship form in a defensive clinic at Monmouth on February 19 of last year, crippling the potent Hawk offense to kick-start a rally to the NCAA Tournament. Friday's game showed a similar parallel, and a far cry from the previous impression the Gaels left on the floor.
"You always hope that you're going to continue to do good in certain areas when you do well," head coach Tim Cluess conceded. "We know if we're going to be able to do anything and make a run, it's got to be with our defense being solid. I thought they brought a very good step tonight in going in that direction."
5) Previewing Sunday's game against Monmouth:
The Gaels come in carrying the distinct statistic of never being swept by a MAAC opponent since Cluess replaced Kevin Willard in 2010. Monmouth will arrive in New Rochelle on a 15-game win streak and the most momentum the program has seen at any given time, once again seeking atonement for last March's narrow loss in the MAAC championship game. Something has to give, and Cluess admitted that the Hawks may have more pressure on them even if seeding is not openly discussed in the locker room.
"Everybody else's job is to shoot for them and go after them," he said of Monmouth and the deserved target on the Hawks' backs. "Our job is to go out and play the best we can, no matter who we play, every time we step on the court, and give ourselves a chance to win every time we step out there."
"The No. 1 seed always has the most pressure on them, that's just the way it is," he elaborated. "They've been in front for so long that they've kind of just taken off, and someone's going to have to be on their A-game to beat them."