Saturday, March 4, 2017

Early fireworks from McGill and Casimir spark Iona rout of Rider

Rickey McGill scored 18 of his 25 points in first half as Iona rolled past Rider in 88-70 victory that sent Gaels to MAAC tournament semifinals for seventh straight season. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

ALBANY, NY -- After surrendering 103 points to Rider, just the third time in seven years that Iona has yielded the century mark to an opposing team, it stood to reason that Iona would come out aggressive to avenge an uncharacteristically one-sided loss as soon as possible.

For the Gaels, it was mission accomplished.

Rickey McGill and Schadrac Casimir combined for 32 points in the first half, just three less than Rider as a team, and it was all the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Gaels (20-12) would need to defeat the Broncs, leading wire-to-wire in a 88-70 win to advance to the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament for the seventh straight season, marking a trip to the conference's own Final Four in each year of Tim Cluess' tenure in New Rochelle.

"We came out and we were fired up," said McGill. "We knew they beat us by almost 20 at home, so we knew we needed to come out with revenge (on our minds), and that's what we did."

The Gaels came out of the blocks firing, connecting on seven of their first eleven three-point attempts and stretching their lead to as many as 22 points after a Casimir trifecta put Iona ahead 35-13 with 6:46 remaining in the opening stanza. Rider rebounded from a conundrum of errors that included a technical foul assessed to head coach Kevin Baggett, going on an 11-2 run to cut their deficit nearly in half, but Iona would recover to trade blows with the sixth-seeded Broncs (18-15) until the intermission, taking a 49-35 lead to the locker room on the strength of long-range shooting and a transition defense that turned 10 turnovers into 16 points.

"We didn't play well," Baggett lamented. "We just didn't come out the right way to start the game, and Casimir hit two big threes as soon as we got it to seven. We just had too many lapses. We knew we had to play a stellar game defensively to give ourselves a chance to win today."

Rider fired a salvo in the early part of the second half, using an 11-4 run to pull within seven points and force Cluess into a timeout with less than three minutes gone. A pair of Casimir threes after play resumed would push the Iona cushion back into double digits, and the Broncs would not get any closer for the remainder of the night.

McGill finished with a career-high 25 points, eclipsing his previous personal best of 22, which also came in Albany on January 27 at Siena's expense. Casimir added 22 points to the winning cause and Jordan Washington chipped in with 16, reaching the 1,000-point career milestone in the process. For Rider, Kahlil Thomas' final collegiate game, barring a postseason invitation, ended with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds to lead five Broncs in double figures. Jimmie Taylor scored 11 in his last contest, and freshman Stevie Jordan ended a stellar rookie season with a double-double of his own, amassing 19 points and 12 rebounds. Xavier Lundy and Norville Carey added 13 and 12, respectively.

Iona extended its streak of 20-win seasons to seven with Saturday's win, and the No. 3 seed Gaels will now face second-seeded Saint Peter's, a team they swept in the regular season, at 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Times Union Center.

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