Five Thoughts: Iona 81, Quinnipiac 73

Iona, in cementing their status as MAAC favorite, dispatched Quinnipiac with an 81-73 victory on Tuesday night. The win avenges their worst loss in MAAC play in a long time and sends the Bobcats reeling, looking for answers as they start 0-4 in league play. Here are some thoughts on the only MAAC game of the night.

Ousmane Drame has been off his game lately – The senior forward and unanimous first-team all-MAAC selection started Tuesday’s game on the bench. It was the first time Drame did not appear in the starting lineup all season.

Drame was similarly held on the bench to start the second half of the Bobcats’ loss to Saint Peter’s. In that game, a “lack of energy” was given as the reason for Drame’s absence from the lineup. Tuesday at Iona, head coach Tom Moore was mum on any further explanation.

“He [Drame] hasn’t been starting games or halves real well, so we’re trying something different,” Moore said.

After undergoing offseason knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear which forced him to miss last year’s game in New Rochelle, Drame has had very few physical complaints this season. Though Drame has admitted he likely won’t be 100% any time this year, there is no indication his recent troubles have anything to do with any physical issue.

The Bobcats have struggled from behind the arc this season, but they may have found a solution in Ayron Hutton – The freshman guard poured in a career high 16 points including four buckets from behind the arc Tuesday night. Not only did Hutton score, but he also filled the stat sheet with 8 assists.

“He’s had a great disposition about him this year for a freshman,” Moore said of Hutton. “He’s really a high IQ guy and passes it real well. He sees things on the floor that a lot of our other guys don’t see. It was great for him and the team to start seeing some three’s drop because you’re looking at a freshman who is starting to really gain confidence. I’m very excited with his potential and where he could go, because we need him right now.”

One of Moore’s biggest struggles this season has been finding a complementary guard to play alongside Zaid Hearst. Hearst leads the team and ranks second in the MAAC with 19.1 ppg and led the attack once more with 27 points against Iona.

Gio McLean, a transfer from Westchester Community College, was brought in to be an impact guard, but has been suspended since the beginning of the season following a fake transcript scandal out of Westchester. McLean’s status for the remainder of the year remains up in the air as the team awaits the findings of an NCAA investigation which should return a decision later this month.

A number of guards have flashed scoring ability at times, but none have been able to contribute alongside Hearst on a consistent basis. Evan Conti and Kasim Chandler have started every game alongside Hearst this year, but both have struggled since conference play resumed.

Even freshman Dimitri Floras flashed potential with a 14-point performance on the road against Albany earlier this year in which he went 3-5 from behind the arc. However, Floras has been unable to recapture that magic and has gone scoreless over the last five games.

With Hutton contributing from behind the arc while the other guards struggle, the freshman will likely get more minutes as the season goes on. For a Quinnipiac team that ranks 305th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage according to KenPom, his perimeter shooting is a breath of fresh air.

In fact, don’t be surprised if Hutton finds himself in the starting lineup for Friday’s showdown at Monmouth as the Bobcats continue to look for their first MAAC win.

Iona senior David Laury (right) said that last season’s loss to Quinnipiac motivated them on Tuesday night.

Iona still uses their loss at Quinnipiac last season as a source of motivation – The Bobcats downed the Gaels 86-74 in Hamden to hand Iona one of only three conference losses last season. The 12-point differential still ranks as Iona’s largest margin of defeat in MAAC play during the Tim Cluess era.

“We were at Quinnipiac getting our doors blown off in the first half of the game and I was hoping we would find a way to win 6-10 games this year,” Cluess said in an interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa prior to last year’s MAAC tournament. “The kids really turned it around and impressed me with their work ethic and their desire to be good.”

The Gaels of course went on to win 16 of their next 18 games before falling to Manhattan in the MAAC Championship game.

During last year’s meeting, Quinnipiac opened on a 28-9 run, leaving Iona in the rear view mirror. David Laury, who led all scorers Tuesday night with 30 points including 12 in a row to start the second half, was held to just 10 points in that game but has used that memory to help maintain his toughness ever since.

“I was upset about my performance when we got blown out there last year,” Laury said. “I was shying away from contact. I don’t know what I was doing, but it just wasn’t me. I wanted to come out today and show that aggressiveness. They didn’t just beat us. They kind of physically punked us there. That’s not how the guys on this team play. We just got knocked on the ground and laid down. We wanted it to be different this time.”

Thanks to a snowstorm that delayed last year’s meeting by four days, Tuesday’s game came exactly one year after that beat-down in Hamden. On the anniversary of that painful memory, Cluess was asked whether he took the opportunity to refresh Laury’s memory himself.

“No doubt,” Cluess said with a smile. “We reminded him of it just once or twice”

Slowing Iona down will not necessarily stop it – Look, the Gaels want to run, especially off misses and live-ball turnovers. In fact, there were a few times that Iona turned Quinnipiac’s aggressiveness on the offensive boards against them, getting quick baskets at the other end when they got caught without numbers back. After all, when you have a shooter like A.J. English, transition is sometimes the best way to get him open, before the other team can get set.

However, Iona can still beat you in the half-court on offense. As we’ve established, David Laury is nearly impossible to stop one-on-one (and he was 3-for-4 from behind the arc on Tuesday as well). And pretty much anyone else on the floor he kicks to can shoot. Here are the three-point percentages: English 40.5%, Schadrac Casimir 44.0%, Isaiah Williams (who had 22 against Quinnipiac) 43.0%, Ryden Hines 42.1%. Even with Kelvin Amayo, whom Quinnipiac tried hard to play off and have his defender in help, he still shoots better than 50% from the field, even if he doesn’t have the outside range.

So, yes Iona is sixth nationally in adjusted tempo, but they’re also 11th in adjusted offense, so if they get beat, it will likely be – as against Monmouth – that they’re not going to defend. That day, the Hawks scored 1.19 points per possession and turned the ball over 16 times.

Quinnipiac shouldn’t be written off just yet – They’re staring at 0-5 in the MAAC if they can’t win at Monmouth Friday, and things such as Drame’s lack of production and missing 15 straight shots in the first half Tuesday are disturbing, but the Bobcats have too many veterans, a first-team all-MAAC player in Zaid Hearst, and have shown (by beating Yale and Oregon State) that they’re capable of contending in this conference.

Perhaps the most disturbing numbers are the defensive turnover % and steal %. Even forcing 16 turnovers, Quinnipiac remains 351st and dead last (13.6%) in forcing turnovers. However, only three of those turnovers were Bobcat steals, and you could see a few times where Quinnipiac was close to getting its hands on balls that they just missed. So they remain 351st in steal % as well (4.9%, 0.6% behind anyone else in the country). Quinnipiac’s leader in steals this season? Ousmane Drame with seven.

But I still think they’ll be a dangerous team by the end of the season.

“We’ll work at it tomorrow and Thursday, and hopefully our first step forward will be Friday,” Moore said. “There’s a lot of time. We have things we have to keep straightening out and improving, but there’s a lot of time.”

(Ray Curren contributed to this report)

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