Sunday, March 5, 2017

Iona reaches fifth straight MAAC title game with win over Saint Peter's

By Norman Rose (@ECoastBias)

ALBANY, NY -- In the second game of the MAAC Tournament semifinal, offense won a shot at the championship, as the Iona Gaels' second-half flurry; and perhaps the experience of being the defending MAAC Tournament champions, sent second-seeded Saint Peter's packing. 

The final score, 73-65, obscures how much the first half was a Saint Peter's kind of game - low-scoring, with long offensive droughts. Iona was held without a field goal for the last 11 minutes of clock time to end the first half. Tim Cluess' Gaels shot more than half of their shots from outside the arc, scored no points in the paint, had seven total rebounds and gave up 12 points to a hard-working Quadir Welton in the post. The Peacocks won the half, 28-24, scoring 0.94 points per possession and allowing 0.89 to the high-scoring Iona team. But in the second half, after six points by Saint Peter's, the Gaels blew in.

"After we got the first couple of baskets, they hit a three to get them started," Saint Peter's coach John Dunne said after the game, "and then we had a couple of turnovers. Once they get going, they're hard to stop."

Senior guard Trevis Wyche added, "once they start throwing the ball in to (Jordan) Washington, he's hard to stop in a one-on-one matchup."

Iona shot 71 percent inside the arc in the second half, with Washington leading the way with 16 of his 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting. The Gaels scored 22 of their points in the paint.

"Second half," said Cluess, "[my team] really came alive."

Meanwhile, the Peacocks' controlled jump shooting offense struggled for long stretches. And the turnovers, 15 in total, 24 percent of their possessions, did not help.

"We've been very low-turnover this year," said Dunne. "We had 15 tonight and some costly ones. You can't do that against Iona."

Cluess praised the second half effort and initiative of his players. "They took leadership and started talking to each other on the court," he said, "doing little things that they weren't doing in the first half."

Cluess was fairly tight-lipped after the game, focused on the next championship game against the Siena Saints, Iona's sixth in his seven-year tenure and fifth straight, which will be like a road game for Iona.

"I think it's really good that we have this much experience [in the MAAC]," he said. "Both teams are going in with a clean slate."

Along with Washington's 22, Iona got 11 from Deyshonee Much in the first half and 12 from Jon Severe. Washington also was credited with four steals while Rickey McGill had six assists. Saint Peter's got 18 points each from seniors Quadir Welton and Trevis Wyche, who also had six rebounds and four assists, and 10 from Antwon Portley, including a pair of threes late in the game to keep it close. 

For the game, Iona scored 1.20 points per possession (1.44 in the second half when they got cooking) and Saint Peter's scored 1.00 points per possession, 1.05 in the second half.

The Peacocks are hoping for an invite from a postseason tournament, to keep the experience of being with this team going. 

"This is by far the most unselfish group I've been around," Dunne said. "By far the most willing to sacrifice. Never at one point did I want this season to be over."

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