Saturday, February 24, 2018

Casimir's 30 help Iona end slump with win over Manhattan in home finale

Schadrac Casimir's 30 points fueled Iona as Gaels completed sweep of Manhattan in last home game of regular season. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- In the past, Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello has described the never-say-die nature of his Jasper teams with a five-word piece of cautionary advice.

"You have to kill us," the two-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion mentor has publicly stated, an homage to his program's scrappy style and relentless heart.

Once again, though, Schadrac Casimir; as he has done several times against Manhattan, played the role of assassin to a near-perfect cadence Friday night.

Casimir's 30 points, amassed on just 13 shots, proved to be the difference as his Iona Gaels broke out of a funk that brought about three losses in four games, defeating the Jaspers by the final of 88-75 on senior night at the Hynes Athletics Center.

"I don't know what it is," Casimir said after his latest dominance against the Gaels' fiercest rival, which was reflected in the redshirt junior's first 30-point game since scoring 33 against Marist on February 8, 2015. "Maybe it's the pace."

"I don't know, but I want everyone we play to wear green," head coach Tim Cluess quipped when asked to articulate just what about Manhattan brings out the best in Casimir. "I think it's just a great rivalry with both teams, and the players on both teams just bring a tremendous amount of energy to that game. He's been fortunate enough to have good games. I'm not surprised when anyone on either team has a good game, because the energy level is just different."

Iona (17-12, 11-6 MAAC) led for all but 16 seconds of the contest, conceding a Tom Capuano layup two seconds in off a fast break from the opening tip before biding their time long enough for Rickey McGill to drain a three-pointer for the Gaels' first field goal of the night. Casimir struck for the first time nearly a minute later before sparking a 16-4 Iona run that put the hosts ahead by 16 points, at 30-14, with just over eight minutes to play in the opening stanza.

Tempers flared shortly thereafter, as the emotions of one of the MAAC's strongest rivalries boiled over in the form of Manhattan's Zane Waterman taking his aggression out on McGill under the basket adjacent to Iona's bench with 7:02 left in the first half. As the two were fighting for a rebound, the senior forward shoved McGill, who landed backward onto the baseline press table in plain sight of official Kevin O'Connell. Waterman was promptly assessed a technical foul, which actually galvanized the Jaspers (13-16, 8-9 MAAC) for a stretch, as the visitors went on a 10-2 run to pull within seven points. The Gaels would restore order going to the locker room, however, regaining control to take a 47-34 lead into the intermission.

Iona came out of the halftime break just as strong, leading by as many as 20 before Manhattan slowly began to chip away. The Jaspers drew within six points as sophomore forward Pauly Paulicap (16 points, 13 rebounds) led the charge, but the early hole they had dug proved to be too much to overcome, as a 9-3 Iona run effectively slammed the door on a comeback that would have harkened back to 2012, when Manhattan used a game-ending 27-7 run to stun a Gaels team that would go on to make the NCAA Tournament.

"Iona has such an ability to go on these runs under Tim for years, and they can go on 8-0, 12-0 runs quickly," Masiello said, praising the Gaels' transition game. "They're one of those teams where you have to control those a little bit, and I thought for the most part, we did that, but I thought we let them have one too many of those. Give them credit. I thought Casimir played terrific and we did a poor job defensively on him."

"We knew what we were coming into," he added. "They had a full week to prepare coming off the loss to Niagara, so we knew; on their senior night, what this game was going to be in this building. We knew it wasn't going to be easy. I just didn't think we shot particularly well in the first half, and I thought our defense was sub-Manhattan, but give Iona credit for that."

Despite the loss, Manhattan still controls its destiny for the No. 5 seed and last first-round bye in next week's MAAC Tournament, which they can clinch by defeating Quinnipiac in their regular season finale Sunday. A loss will relegate the Jaspers to either the No. 6 or 7 seed, contingent on what Fairfield does Saturday against Monmouth. For Iona, they are locked into either the No. 3 or 4 seed, and have one more chance to cultivate more momentum Sunday as they attempt to thwart Rider's chances of winning the league's regular season crown.

"Hopefully, we just go out and compete again like we did today," said Cluess of the clash in New Jersey against the Broncs, whom Iona defeated by 27 in the previous meeting between the two schools on January 14. "To me, the biggest thing is, do we compete? If we compete and make shots, we have a really good chance. If we don't do both of those, we don't have a good chance. When you compete, you give yourself a chance in any type of game, and tonight, I thought we competed for 40 minutes. We have to do that the rest of the season, Sunday and then next week in the playoffs."

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