With the first semifinal in the MAAC tournament tied at 70 and just over a minute left, the Iona Gaels put the ball in the hands of sophomore A.J. English.
After Canisius roared to a 10-0 run to cut a lead as large as 12 in the second half to tie the game for the third time, English drove to the basket but his shot couldn’t go. However, David Laury was there for the offenisve rebound and his put back put the Gaels up 72-70 with 59 seconds remaining.
“I was just going after the ball,” Laury said. “I just try to go after the ball. I try not to work on anything else, stay in the moment and I saw the shot go up. I was just trying to take every rebound I could late in the game.”
Laury collected a team-high 12 rebounds and his only field goal for the game proved to be critical for the Gaels.
After senior Billy Baron missed a three-pointer at the top of the key, the Golden Griffins were consigned to fouling Iona.
Sean Armand sank one of his two free throws, and after a dunk from Chris Manhertz cut the lead to 73-72 with 9.7 seconds left, Tre Bowman sank two free throws to put Iona up three. Baron’s long three-pointer from the right wing fell short of the basket and the Gaels advance with a three-point victory Sunday.
Baron led all scorers with 23 points, Manhertz registered a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Armand led the Gaels with 21 points and his team had four players in double figures.
For the MAAC Player of the Year Baron, who said he would trade a million individual awards for an NCAA tournament bid, falling short on his final shot was a disappointment.
“I knew that it was short right away, just didn’t put enough legs into it,” Baron said. “Just had pulled up from a little deeper than I wanted to.”
Canisius trailed by as many as 12 after Armand buried a three-pointer from the left corner to put the Gaels up 59-47. From there, the Golden Griffins were led by their star senior who took it on himself to will the team back in the game by driving into the lane early and often.
“I thought we made a great comeback and got to be a lot more aggressive the second half,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said. “We just kept wanting to attack. We keep switching defenses to try to take them out of their momentum that they had.”
“I think [our seniors] stepped up and Billy, he really almost tried to will the game.”
Canisius outscored Iona 31-27 in the second half. This game featured the type of high scoring first half expected from the two best offenses in the conference, if not the country. The two teams combined to make 14 three-pointers in the half and Iona took a seven-point halftime lead after Armand drove and made a contested jumper over Baron’s hand at the left elbow.
For Iona head coach Tim Cluess, a victory could not have been a better additional birthday gift.
“It’s my son TJ’s birthday it’s his now,” Cluess joked. “I already have the best gift, this is something: a bonus on top of it. I have a great family, that’s healthy and I think the biggest gift God can give anybody.”
Iona advances to play Manhattan on Monday in the MAAC championship game at 7pm.
Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and America East conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.