Iona is growing up

Three and a half weeks ago Iona was the lead dog in the MAAC. The Gaels were undefeated and controlled their own destiny up by 17 against Manhattan at the Hynes Athletic Center. Then everything changed. Iona collapsed and the Jaspers pulled out a dramatic 75-72 victory. Tim Cluess’ squad got to show just how much it had learned from that moment on Saturday at Draddy Gymnasium.

It was eerie how the scenario played out. The Gaels once again made a nice run right after halftime and with 11:08 to go in the game Iona had an 18-point lead, 67-49. This time the Gaels finished strong and came away with an 85-73 win that once again solidified them as the top team in the MAAC.

“It meant a lot,” Momo Jones said about the win. “It meant the world. We just wanted to come in and we want to come into every game and make a statement and just play hard. Last time they beat us at home. We wanted to get some payback and we wanted to do some growing up tonight.”

But it hasn’t been easy and Iona has had to mature a lot as a unit since January 12. There have been some tough lessons too. After the loss to Manhattan, Iona put its NCAA tournament at-large hopes on life support with a similar loss at Siena.

The loss to the Saints though seems to have triggered something. In their last four games Iona has kept the intensity up throughout and finished off conference opponents. All four of those victories have been by at least nine points and it has once again put the Gaels in first place.

“I think we’ve grown up in that we’ve finished the last several games off better,” Cluess said. “Even when we have that little downturn. … Teams are good so they’re going to have runs. Our job is to answer those and to be solid on defense if we go on a scoring drought.”

Iona didn’t need much motivation against Manhattan after the last time these two teams met, but if they did the “Green Out” at Draddy certainly provided something extra. The sold out crowd of 2,345 was decidedly for the home team, but it seemed to fuel Jones, Scott Machado and Mike Glover even more.

Near the end of the game Machado got to the ball in the open court after the Gaels broke the press. Instead of taking it out and killing the clock he took it in for a one-handed dunk, his first as a collegian. The dunk, and his reaction afterwards, seemed to signal just how happy Iona was to get a win in a hostile road environment.

That moment though never would’ve happened without some critical stops. Unlike in the past meeting when Manhattan was able to get back into it with quick baskets, the Gaels made the Jaspers, and George Beamon especially, work hard for everything in the second half. Beamon, who scored 19 points in the first half, didn’t score in the second until just 5:30 remained and his team trailing by 19.

Beamon finished with 25 points and the Jaspers made a little run, but it wasn’t enough to make things interesting down the stretch. Glover finished with 19 points, Jones 18 and Machado 18 and nine assists. The Gaels also got some help from Sean Armand, who scored 14 in the win.

Credit Iona for growing up. The Gaels seem to have finally learned how to harness their incredible talent to take control of the MAAC.

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