By Matt Lisella (@Matty_Ice42)
Special To Daly Dose Of Hoops
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Defense was not on the agenda at the Hynes Athletics Center, as Rider dismantled Iona, 103-85, to shake up the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings just a bit more with only a week of regular season games remaining.
The visiting Broncs now move to 15-14 and 8-10 in MAAC play, while Iona drops to 18-11 and 11-7 in conference.
Sunday also marked just the third time under head coach Tim Cluess that Iona gave up more than 100 points in a conference game, and first since a 110-102 loss to Monmouth on January 15, 2016. The Gaels are now 2-3 in their last five games with arguably their two biggest games ahead, coming on Friday and Sunday against Manhattan and Monmouth, respectively.
“Our defense was atrocious,” a perturbed Cluess said. “No excuses for it. We’ve gotta get better at it, our guys have to care a lot more. Obviously we’re not doing a good enough job teaching it, because we don’t seem to retain what we’re being taught.”
Despite a career-high 38 points from Jordan Washington, Iona trailed all night long. They were down double digits in the first ten minutes but climbed back in the first half, going on a 10-0 run. However, the Gaels still trailed 50-38 at halftime after a Jimmie Taylor three-pointer beat the buzzer. Rider shot 54 percent from both the field and from three-point range in the first, scoring on what seemed like any play they wanted to.
Rider’s backcourt played extremely well tonight, and was the driving force in the win for the Broncs. Taylor continued his outstanding play, scoring 28 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field, including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. Freshman Stevie Jordan filled the stat sheet with a near double-double, posting 17 points, nine assists and five rebounds in his second game back from a four-game suspension imposed earlier this month for a violation of team rules. For the Gaels, Washington was dominant in the paint, adding to his personal best point total with ten rebounds, but most of that came with his team trailing by an insurmountable deficit. Washington was 12-of-22 from the floor and 14-of-17 from the free throw line.
“Whatever,” Cluess said in regards to Washington scoring 38, still clearly affected by his team's lackluster defense. “It’s not impressive to me when you score when your team is down 20. How about getting the second shot? How about boxing out? How about not giving up layups on the other end? Do those things. That’s impressive to me.”
The Gaels cut the lead to as little as seven in the second half, but Rider shot 60 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep, rendering any further Iona comeback to be in vain.
“We have a lot to improve on. It’s almost like starting from square one again,” Cluess said. “The only thing we can take away from it is ‘How will our team respond?’ If we play like this, we’re going to be finished in about a week.”
The icing on the cake for Rider was a monster slam by Norville Carey off a backboard pass from Stevie Jordan. Carey had a big night as well, shooting 7-of-11 for 20 points and six rebounds. But while the Broncs were able to celebrate an emphatic win, Cluess bemoaned Iona's lack of communication on the defensive end, leading to countless easy buckets for a Rider team that placed five players in double figures to score their first victory in New Rochelle since 2011.
“It’s a mystery,” he said. “I’d love to know why some days guys come with great energy and some days guys don’t, and I think that’s something every coach in every sport tries to figure out.”
So what does this mean for both teams? Well, Rider still sits in the No. 7 spot in the standings, but still has an opportunity to move up with two games remaining against Manhattan and Quinnipiac. As for Iona, they drop into a tie for third place in the MAAC standings with Siena, as Canisius and Fairfield breathe down both the Gaels' and Saints' necks. Iona concludes the regular season with their annual “Gold Rush” game against Manhattan Friday night before honoring Washington and fellow seniors Taylor Bessick, Sam Cassell, Jr., and Jon Severe on senior day in Sunday's season finale against Monmouth.