Step off the Metro North train in New Rochelle and you know you’re not in New York City anymore. There are apartment buildings, a McDonald’s, and a CVS on the main drag, but it’s nothing like the Bronx, which is just nine miles away.
Those locations define Iona and Manhattan. The Gaels have owned the MAAC for the past two seasons from their vantage point just outside the city. Even picked second in the preseason, Iona is the measuring stick that any wannabe contender measures themselves against.
Iona once again proved that it is the team to beat in the MAAC by moving into a tie for first place with Canisius thanks to an 85-73 victory over Manhattan.
The inside duo of David Laury and Mike Poole led the Gaels. Laury tied his season-high with 21 points in 29 minutes off the bench. Poole scored a career-high 19 points in 38 minutes. Interestingly, the former Rutgers player had scored his previous career-high of 18 against Iona back in 2012. The two complement each other well. Poole’s ability to hit jumpers, including a three, gave Laury the space to attack the rim. Laury finished 6-7 from the floor and 9-11 from the free throw line. The two players also had eight rebounds apiece.
“I love Mike [Poole],” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said. “He’s worked hard. He’s struggled early on and he’s found himself a little bit. We knew if he stuck with it that he’d do that and he has and now he’s playing with confidence and that just gives us a whole ‘nother dimension on our team.”
Manhattan tried to match. Rhamel Brown did his part in the part with 15 points on 6-7 shooting in 29 minutes, but he received little help. Mike Alvarado and Shane Richards combined to shoot 8-29 from the field.
Despite the poor shooting night from some complementary pieces, and Iona relentlessly blanketing George Beamon, who was held to nine points on 4-8 shooting, the Jaspers still made their run. The Jaspers burst out of halftime on an 11-0 run to take a six-point lead with 16:05 remaining, but once the Gaels weathered the storm thanks to two A.J. English threes there was nothing the Jaspers could do.
The Manhattan offense stagnated and despite playing only six players Iona never ceded the lead over the final 11:40 of the game.
“I was proud of our guys,” Cluess said. “They played really hard and they dug in deep and I thought the guys we had on the floor at the time gave us the best chance of winning and we think we’re a well conditioned team and can withstand playing that long.”
Part of the problem was Manhattan’s inability to get into transition. The Jaspers only forced seven Iona turnovers in the game, including just four in the second half. Steve Masiello’s team also only managed to get to the free throw line 20 times, where they shot 13-20 (65%), far below their typical output from the charity stripe. Brown and Beamon are also still recovering from injuries that sidelined earlier this season.
“They’re out there battling but you can tell they’re both not a 100 percent,” Masiello said. “It’s tough. They’re trying. They’re giving everything they’ve got.”
The victory once again asserts Iona’s position at the top of the MAAC standings. At 9-2 the Gaels are tied with Canisius atop the league table. Still, as Sean Armand pointed out. Winning is nice, but really all that matters in three games in Springfield, MA when it comes to qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
“You’ve just got to win three games in March,” Armand said. “Yeah, you want to be in first place regardless. I want to win in everything we do. Who gets through the door first. It doesn’t matter. I want to win in everything. Honestly, in this game you have to win three games and that’s it, but you have to win three games at the end of the year.”
That’s where this will ultimately be settled.