Sunday, January 7, 2018

Dey's career day too Much for Fairfield as Iona rolls

Playing off bench after Tim Cluess shook up Iona's lineup, Deyshonee Much responded with career-high 32 points as Gaels won second straight on four-game homestand Sunday. (Photo by The Journal News)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Following a come-from-behind win over Saint Peter's that saw Schadrac Casimir take charge with 18 points off the bench, Tim Cluess rewarded the former Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year with a starting role Sunday afternoon, moving incumbent starter Deyshonee Much into a sixth man capacity against Fairfield.

After the fifth-year senior's performance as a reserve, Cluess may need to tinker with his lineup again.

Much came into the game with just over two minutes gone by, and proceeded to make each of his first five three-point field goal attempts, setting the tone for a career-best 32 points as Iona won its second straight game since returning from their Western New York swing, downing Fairfield by the final of 84-65 to remain undefeated on their four-game homestand.

"We're a team," Much said of whether or not his substitute status inspired him to light up the scoreboard as the Gaels (9-7, 3-1 MAAC) took their first step toward establishing themselves as a contender in a conference race defined by a greater parity than in years past. "Whatever we have to do, whatever Coach has to put together to find a way is fine with me."

But much like Friday night, when Iona spotted Saint Peter's an 11-0 head start and a second 10-point deficit late in the second half, it appeared Fairfield (6-9, 1-3 MAAC) was on their way to getting the jump on the Gaels by scoring seven of the first nine points to begin the game. However, the reigning MAAC champions seized control with a 12-2 run to go up 14-9 on the strength of Much's hot start. The Stags eventually stole the lead back on a 15-3 spurt, but a 14-3 Iona outburst gave the hosts the lead for good in the waning minutes of an opening stanza that ended with the Gaels taking a 37-34 lead to the locker room.

Iona was just getting started at that juncture, however, as a 14-4 run out of the intermission put the Gaels up 13 points and forced Fairfield into a timeout. The Stags would eventually trim the deficit to seven points, but a 15-3 run for Iona to close the game effectively slammed the door as the visitors dropped their third straight since opening their conference season with a win over Saint Peter's.

"It's a shame," head coach Sydney Johnson lamented. "I thought we played hard, and I thought there was a lot of execution with what we were trying to do, but we did have a mistake and gave up an extra offensive rebound opportunity. They capitalized, and that was the difference."

Much added to his offensive explosion with six rebounds and seven assists, leading five Gaels in double figures. Forward TK Edogi added 11 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double, spearheading a 44-26 Iona victory on the glass to atone for being outrebounded against Saint Peter's. Tyler Nelson's 16 led Fairfield in a losing effort as the preseason choice to win the MAAC solidified their potential.

"As the season's started to progress, I think everything's starting to gel," Edogi optimistically stated. "We're better now and we're feeling more comfortable with each other. It's only going to get better. I definitely feel like we've put ourselves in a better position. We just want to carry over from one game to the next game."

"It's a long season," said Cluess. "We just have to continue to get better. I'm happy it's our home court. We expect to play well every time we go out here. The fan base is terrific, they really help fuel our fire. Every time you step on that court, you've got to protect it and play to the best of your ability."

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