Three Thoughts: Iona 95, Monmouth 77

Iona head coach Tim Cluess has had plenty to smile about these last two days, even if it is in two different ways.

Saturday it was a wry smile, which displayed his disdain for having to face the host Siena Saints in a de facto road game as the league’s top seed. Today, it was the smile of a coach who utterly enjoyed his team’s offensive output, a game probably only matched by their record breaking blowout of Delaware State earlier this season.

When asked where this team ranks on his best shooting teams, Cluess couldn’t display any more pride than he did in his group who collectively made 19 three-pointers, setting a new MAAC tournament record.

“As good as any team I’ve ever coached,” Cluess said. “And on certain nights, better.”

Here are three thoughts from the Gaels punching their ticket into the championship game for the third straight season.

Isaiah Williams, At Any Percent, Coming Through For Gaels – Isaiah Williams is not back at 100% yet for the Gaels, he even says it himself.

“No I’m not 100% back,” Williams said after the game. “I’m just happy I made open shots.”

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Iona junior Isaiah Williams celebrates one of his nine three-pointers against Monmouth, setting a new MAAC tournament single-game record.

Even Monmouth head coach King Rice noticed in warmups that the junior Williams is not at his peak physical shape. The Hawks game plan was to crowd him, but they managed to lose him in the array of open shooters.

“Honestly, I’m a little bit shocked,” Cluess said of Williams’ 27-point performance, tying a career-high he set earlier this season against Indiana State. “The last practice we had before the tournament, in all fairness, he was limping up and down the court.”

“I honestly didn’t know if he would be 25%, and I was exaggerating with 40 or more, and he’s been great. I think it’s his mental toughness. I think he knows it’s playoff time and every game matters. He’s fighting through it and he’s putting on a good display for everybody here.”

Williams set a new record for three-pointers made in a MAAC tournament game at nine, besting Jerry Johnson’s eight three’s in 2002.

Laury Beats The Hawks In More Ways Than One – MAAC Player of the Year David Laury was off his game in the first half, drawing two quick fouls and finding a seat near the bench for most of it. He did not hurt the Hawks with his scoring, which seems crazy to say on a day where the Gaels scored 95 points, but he managed to beat Monmouth by being a facilitator against their defense.

Most of the precise ball movement that Iona used went through the 6’9” senior, especially on the MAAC tournament record tying three-pointer made by Williams. Laury, at the free throw line found Schadrac Casimir on the left wing, who dished it to Williams in the left corner for the triple to go up 11. It was precisely what the senior had helped to do all day long as he finished with seven points, six assists and five rebounds.

“He made some really good passes to get guys shots, rebounding the ball and made a difference for us in the second half,” Cluess said. “It’s great to have him as the facilitator in the middle of their defense, where he was stepping out and going against another big, making help come and making plays from there.”

“I’m hopeful Dave has an even better game tomorrow night because we’re going to need him.”

Laury’s efforts helped the Gaels build one of their best offensive performances to date, they scored 95 points in 73 possessions (1.30 PPP), their highest output since their absurd performance against Delaware State.

“I just told guys that coach came here and said we’re playing Iona basketball for the first time in a long time,” A.J. English said was the message after half one. “Basically I think that put a lot of motivation in people and coach came in, just telling us that it’s not over. When we played them, we were down before and we came back, so we don’t want the same thing to happen, so basically we just tried to keep locked in.”

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Sophomore Justin Robinson knows the Hawks will be back in this position next season.

Monmouth Will Be Back, King Rice Knows It – After taking his final question King Rice stayed at the microphone and made sure that he said that he respected Iona, but that he wants his program to be right up there with the Gaels.

“We want to be where you are and the way to get there is to try and beat Iona,” Rice said. “We have so much respect for the program and it is not a not respect thing, we have respect for them, we want to be where they are and they don’t want us to be up there with them yet.”

“I think we’ve shown it’s going to be a fun time with us in the MAAC against Iona and some of the top teams.”

Rice said that should the be invited to play in the postseason, such as possibly the College Insider Tournament, that they would gladly accept, which seems likely for a team that finished fourth in the MAAC.

Justin Robinson was stopped on this night by Iona’s constant pressure on the 5’8” sophomore, but that has been an aberration this season, not the norm for the man who earned a spot on the first team All-MAAC.

The Hawks were one of just three teams to beat the Gaels in the regular season and the only ones who had a shot to sweep them this year before falling 69-68 on the road. Even though seniors Andrew Nicholas, Max DiLeo and graduate transfer Brice Kofane exit, the message is clear as Rice harped on any chance he could.

“Nobody thought we’d be here, I truly thought, I told our kids we were going to win this game and Iona was the better team, but we’re coming,” Rice said. “Pretty soon, we’ll be the older guys and we’ll see how it goes then.”

The Hawks return their top two leading scorers in Robinson (13.4 ppg) and junior Deon Jones (12.8 ppt) and return Josh James from his toe injury. They also add transfers Je’Lon Hornbeak and Micah Seaborn, who both sat out this season to their existing core.

“We’re going to be right back here next year and hopefully, with the guys that we add and the guys right now, that are maturing a little bit more, including myself,” Robinson said. “We look to take the next step, so pat ourselves on the back for the year we had this year, but we’re not content.”

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

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