What a night for A.J. English.
The senior guard returned the focus of the MAAC from West Long Branch to New Rochelle, silencing all critics (including this humble reporter) with a career performance in leading Iona past Fairfield 101-77 Tuesday night. English’s 46 points were a new career high and the second highest single-game total in Iona history.
“I was just trying to win,” English said after the game. “I kept looking up at the scoreboard. In the past we had big leads and they turned into one possession games, and we might get a shot up at the end to win or lose it. I was just trying to keep my foot on the gas and keep the lead up. It wasn’t an individual thing. My teammates were telling me ‘go go go’ but I was just trying to win.”
To say English was locked in would be an understatement. The Delaware native was unconscious from behind the arc, shooting 90% from 3-point range in the second half and 13-for-19 for the game. English made nine consecutive 3-pointers following halftime.
His 13 made 3-pointers set a new Iona and MAAC record, eclipsing former teammate Sean Armand’s 10 made 3’s against Siena in January of 2012.
“A.J. English put on a performance for the ages out there tonight.” Iona coach Tim Cluess said. “I’m glad I got a chance to coach it and watch it. Whenever he does that he makes the game easy for us. That was one of the best performances I’ve ever been a part of. Maybe the best.”
English’s 46 points tied the MAAC scoring record set by Holy Cross’ Jim McCaffrey in 1985. Incidentally, McCaffrey set the original record against Iona.
Garnering attention from NBA scouts nearly every time he steps on the court, English proved Tuesday night why some of those scouts consider him a first-round pick. Stepping back and taking a glance past his points, English also contributed eight assists on the evening. It is this ability to remain a top passer in the midst of a lights-out shooting night that will propel English’s stock at the next level.
“He wasn’t shooting it every time he touched it,” Cluess said of English. “He was finding other guys and making them better. I think that’s the difference between him now and even a year ago. He can go out and score yet still get other guys easy baskets, keep them involved, and know who the hot hand is.”
Fairfield’s Sydney Johnson could only look on helplessly at the other end of the court as English buried basket after basket, helping Iona open up a lead that stretched to as much as 31 over his Stags late in the game.
“Unfortunately I have,” Johnson replied when asked if he had ever been on the opposing end of such a performance like English’s. “You’re going to face great players and obviously he looked really good in the second half. You have to tip your hat. I think he’s the best player in the league.”
English’s outburst Tuesday night was more than a stellar scoring performance. It was a message to the MAAC and the nation that A.J. English and the Gaels are not to be taken lightly.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.