Iona’s Bench Comes Through In English’s Absence

The decision was announced at approximately 3:30 Friday afternoon. Iona junior guard A.J. English would miss that evening’s game against Siena due to his role in a post-game altercation after the buzzer of the Gaels’ previous game, a 68-61 overtime win over Saint Peter’s.

Cluess with English
With star guard A.J. English serving a one game suspension, Tim Cluess had to find a way to replace one of his most productive players.

Adding to Iona’s injury woes, fellow junior Isaiah Williams missed his sixth straight game with a right foot injury. The vaunted Iona quartet was, for the first time all season, reduced to a duo. What did that duo do? They produced.

Preseason MAAC Player of the Year selection David Laury used a tremendous first half to set the tempo for the shorthanded Gaels. The senior forward accounted for 17 points in the first 20 minutes, including perfect marks from 3-point range (3-3) and the free throw line (6-6).

Laury led all scorers with 27 points, and was joined in the 20-point club by freshman sensation Schadrac Casimir, who poured in 22 points in what was just his fourth best offensive performance of his young career.

The five-time MAAC Rookie of the Week went just 4-17 from the field and 2-11 from 3-point range, but went a perfect 12-12 from the charity stripe to help the Gaels seal the game down the stretch. It was the most free throws made by an Iona player this season. Both Laury and Casimir played all 40 minutes.

“He’s very crafty, he changes speeds really well and he’s got a really nice pull-up,” head coach Tim Cluess said of Casimir. “He attacks the rim hard for a kid of his size. When he got fouled he was automatic from the foul line and that was huge to be able to put the ball in his hands, because normally it’s in A.J.’s hands at that point.”

Siena caught Iona flat-footed out of the gate. The Saints opened the game on a 9-0 run and forced Cluess to call timeout less than 90 seconds into the contest. However, the Gaels responded by doing what they do best – shooting 3-pointers. Iona shot a stunning 61.5% from long distance over the first 20 minutes, making eight of 13 attempts to take a 46-42 lead into halftime.

However, what goes up must come down, and Iona’s hot shooting soon cooled off. Despite their hot start from the perimeter, the Gaels shot a putrid 1-12 from behind the arc in the second half. That break in momentum was just what the Saints needed to get back in the game.

Midway through the second half, Siena kick started a 9-0 run which brought them back within three points with just over six minutes left to play. However, the run was halted when Siena’s Evan Hymes was whistled for a technical foul. The foul led to a 6-0 Gael run, which they parlayed into another 10-point lead.

“I don’t know,” was the only response from Siena coach Jimmy Patsos when asked about Hymes’ technical. “I asked, the ref said [Hymes] was showing him up. I’ll go back and review it.”

Even when it seemed the game was out of hand, the Saints never said die. Thanks to an all-Rob Poole and Marquis Wright 8-1 run, Siena once again cut the deficit to just three. However, Patsos’ squad could never get over the hump. Laury answered that run with a one-handed slam and the Saints were unable to mount another rally before time ran out, handing Iona the 87-83 victory.

“It was a really good game and we competed,” Patsos said. “We’re getting better. We got better at Manhattan in a loss, we came back and beat Rider, and we got better tonight. I know everyone wants to win, but we’re playing hard, fighting, and guys are stepping up.”

Iona senior David Laury throws one down in the lane in the game's final minutes against Siena.
Iona senior David Laury throws one down in the lane in the game’s final minutes against Siena.

Key to Iona’s success in the absence of English and Williams were the bench players, who had been unproductive early in the season. Kelvin Amayo joined Laury and Casimir in double figures with 17 points and eight rebounds to go along with a perfect 9-9 mark from the free throw line. Ibn Muhammad stepped up with nine points off the bench while Ryden Hines and Vangelis Bebis accounted for six points apiece while filling in the starting lineup.

“It’s great for the guys to have to go out there and have to make plays like that in those game situations,” Cluess said of the bench players getting extra minutes in place of English and Williams. “Now our other guys know when they’re healthy they can trust the other players as well. They’ve been in big situations, they know how to make big plays, and have tasted success. Success breeds success and hopefully it gets them even hungrier to improve more as players and become better.”

Siena managed four players in double figures with two more falling just shy. Wright led the Saints with 19, while Lavon Long and Poole followed with 17 and 13 respectively. Freshman Jimmy Paige matched a career high with 10 points in his first career start. Ryan Oliver knocked down three from long distance to grab nine points while Javion Ogunyemi fell just short of a double-double with nine points and nine boards.

Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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