Roland Griffin's jumper in final minute of second overtime was de facto game-winning shot for Iona, who lost seven-point lead in final minute of regulation before erasing six-point deficit in extra session to defeat Quinnipiac. (Photo by Newsday)
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Anyone who insists that Iona's latest Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship defense has lacked drama may be singing a different tune after Friday night.
Leading by seven with 54 seconds to play in regulation, then coughing up the lead and falling behind six points in overtime, the Gaels took a circuitous road to protecting their home floor, needing a second extra frame to wear down a scrappy Quinnipiac team to move closer to the top of the conference standings.
"It was a war," junior point guard Rickey McGill remarked after Iona (14-9, 8-3 MAAC) overcame two scares from a Quinnipiac team who continues to overachieve with regard to their preseason expectations, even after the Gaels walked off the Hynes Athletics Center floor with a double-overtime, 87-82 victory at their expense. "Both teams came out playing aggressive. We just came out and we played harder, and we got the win at the end of the day. We came out and we just fought to the end."
"We just had to play one possession at a time," head coach Tim Cluess echoed after watching his team surrender a 67-60 advantage in the final minute of the second half and then find itself on the short end of a 77-71 deficit just 84 seconds into the first overtime as a result of a 17-4 Quinnipiac run. "We had to get good offensive possessions and get a couple of stops, and we did."
Iona's fight was difficult from start to finish, as Quinnipiac (9-14, 6-5 MAAC) was able to slow the game down to a level far more pedestrian to the Gaels' traditional run-and-gun stylings in the opening stanza, relying on their four-out, one-in attack to create long offensive rebound opportunities while simultaneously keeping Iona off the three-point line. For the evening, only 16 of the Gaels' 74 field goal attempts were taken from beyond the arc, something Bobcats head coach Baker Dunleavy praised in the losing effort.
"That certainly was a key number going into this," he said of Iona's long-range proficiency. "It's certainly lower than I would have guessed would have happened, so credit our guys for staying disciplined, and then they probably missed some open ones they normally make."
In addition to not being able to rely on the three-point shot, Iona; a normally stable foul-shooting outfit late in games, had trouble closing this contest out at the charity stripe, missing four consecutive free throws in the final minute between a pair of errant one-and-ones by Schadrac Casimir and McGill's uncharacteristic 0-for-2 trip with 28 seconds remaining in regulation after freshman Jacob Rigoni dialed in a deep triple to bring Quinnipiac within two points, at 67-65.
"I think Ced (Casimir) is a 90 percent free throw shooter late in games, so that was surprising," Cluess admitted. "Rickey's had some good games and some up-and-down games, but I was really happy for Zach (Lewis), because Zach has had some struggles early in the year at the foul line. He came in and made two really big ones for us."
After McGill's empty trip to the line, Cameron Young; who led all scorers with a career-high 31 points, split a pair, and then tied the score at 69 with an NBA-range triple after TK Edogi's dunk put Iona up by three. Roland Griffin was unable to get a shot off before the horn, prompting a need for five extra minutes as Cluess shared his thoughts on the way the game was trending at that juncture.
"I thought we were giving them a golden opportunity," he said. "Sometimes when you give a game away in those situations, you don't find a way to win. I have to do a better job of getting my guys to understand what I want. I don't think I'm doing a good enough job of that, and I have to get better."
Emboldened by their reprieve, Quinnipiac struck first in the extra frame, as Rigoni buried a three from the key. Moments later, Griffin got a long jumper from just inside the arc to splash through the net. Five straight Bobcat points followed before Griffin's second jumper in overtime and the second of two free throw attempts by McGill made the game a one-possession affair, with Deyshonee Much draining a trifecta on the left wing a half-minute later to knot the proceedings at 77. The senior would then drive the lane for a go-ahead layup in the final minute of the overtime period, which was then answered by Chaise Daniels.
Tied at 79 with just over six seconds on the clock, Iona had a chance to win at the buzzer, but McGill's layup attempt rimmed out, signifying a second five-minute addendum. It took over three minutes for the seal to be broken, but E.J. Crawford; whose overtime drive in the MAAC championship game last season gave the Gaels the lead for good against Siena, converted on a similar move to put the hosts ahead by two. It was a lead they would never relinquish, as Isaiah Washington made one of two free throws on the ensuing possession before Griffin provided the de facto dagger from just inside the foul line.
"I was just staying aggressive, trying to get to the foul line," the junior forward recounted.
"Roland, the last several games, has really started to play much better," said Cluess. "He's feeling really comfortable. I think he's a terrific player. He brings a lot of energy, too, and he's a little different than what we've had in the past. He's a guy who can play in between, he can knock down 15-17-footers at a high clip, he can get to the rim, he can handle the ball, pass the ball, defend multiple positions. We were waiting for this kind of production to start to come out of him, so I think it's great that it's starting to come now with as many games as we still have left. He's going to be a big part of what we do."