Thursday, February 8, 2018

Monmouth shuts down Iona, holds Gaels to lowest point total under Cluess

Louie Pillari's 21 points led all scorers as Monmouth handed Iona its worst defeat under Tim Cluess in conference play, dominating Gaels in 72-50 rout Thursday. (Photo by Monmouth University Athletics)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- In seven-plus seasons under Tim Cluess, Iona's dominance at the Hynes Athletic Center; and in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play for that matter, has been well-documented, as much a part of the fabric as the Gaels' three conference championships and four NCAA Tournament appearances.

But for all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the maroon-and-gold colored success, Iona's latest attempt at adding to it landed with a crashing thud.

Held to just over 32 percent shooting from the floor for the game, and only making seven of the 32 three-point field goals they attempted, the Gaels were handed their most lopsided; and perhaps most crushing, defeat since Cluess assumed the reins in 2010, falling to Monmouth by an unflattering 72-50 margin in New Rochelle.

"We haven't played a game like that in my career here," a blunt Cluess assessed after the Gaels (15-10, 9-4 MAAC) registered their lowest point output since he replaced Kevin Willard on the sidelines, and suffered just their sixth loss of 20 points or more in that span. "No effort whatsoever on either end, and that falls on my shoulders."

"We just didn't come to play," said E.J. Crawford, whose 19 points led Iona in their worst loss in MAAC play under Cluess, coming just four days after a 34-point victory at Marist this past Sunday that could be considered the Gaels' magnum opus of the season. "I thought after the Marist game, we were just going to turn up, just going to get better, but I don't know what happened today. We embarrassed ourselves out there."

Iona traded blows with Monmouth in the opening strides of the first half, but a 16-2 run by the Hawks (8-16, 4-8 MAAC) in its middle stages turned the tide for good, enabling the two-time defending regular-season conference champions to build on their cushion, one that ballooned to as many as 19 points before the intermission and held at a comfortable 17-point tally at the horn.

The second half was all Hawks from there, as Monmouth continued to lock down Iona both on the perimeter and on the glass, finishing the game with a 44-32 rebounding advantage on the hosts. Louie Pillari was the only visitor in double figures on the scoreboard, but his 21 points were more than enough to score a third straight win in perhaps the MAAC's toughest road environment.

"You can't ever go into the Iona game and expect to get away from them," head coach King Rice said, complimenting the Gaels' longtime prowess. "I've had a lot of sleepless nights over the years because of playing against Tim Cluess-coached teams. I think tonight, our kids were super ready -- and I don't want to take any credit away from our kids -- but Iona didn't have their best night tonight. We're super happy to have that win. Anytime you can get a win against Iona, it's a big one, and we're fortunate that we were able to play for a full 40 minutes tonight. Our kids were in, they were bought in on defense, and it really came together tonight." 

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