Friday night’s showdown between the MAAC’s top two powers was full of fireworks, both before and after the final buzzer.
Monmouth’s lights-out shooting performance put an end to Iona’s 26-game home winning streak as tempers flared during and after the game. Three technical fouls were assessed over 40 minutes and a scuffle broke out during the postgame handshake line.
Here are four thoughts from Friday’s showdown:
Iona did not go down easy. Monmouth opened up a 20 point lead midway through the second half and ended up winning comfortably, but there were a few anxious moments down the stretch. Iona was able to cut the lead to just five with 34 seconds remaining, but the steady presence of Justin Robinson
Robinson knocked down four free throws in the final minute to cement the Hawks’ victory to make up for a turnover just outside the final minute which led to a pair of A.J. English free throws to bring the deficit down to 10.
“For someone to be able to stop him [Robinson] from getting the ball the way we do our press offense, you’re not going to continue to do that,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “You might get him once or twice, but he’s going to get the ball. Once it’s in his hands, good things are going to happen.”
Speaking of A.J. English, Iona’s star had another game for the ages. Earlier this season, English set a career high with 46 points in a 101-77 win over Fairfield. The performance set a school and conference record for made 3-pointers (13) and stands tied for the NCAA single-game high this season. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield matched the feat on January 4 against Kansas, but needed triple overtime to do so.
Despite Iona’s loss, English was an unstoppable machine Friday night. He nearly matched his career high with 45 points on 16-for-26 shooting, and blew by his career high in steals with seven. His only blemish came in the form of nine turnovers against an aggressive Monmouth squad.
“He is a great player,” Rice said of English. “I hope he gets to play for a long time. He is a sharp young man, and he is obviously the top player in our league right now.”
No game this season highlighted the absence of Schadrac Casimir more than this one. Last season’s MAAC Freshman of the Year has been ruled out for the remainder of the year after sustaining a groin injury earlier this season. Casimir last appeared in that win over Fairfield where he was held scoreless, but averaged 14.5 ppg in his rookie season.
English was supported Friday by 21 points from Jordan Washington and 13 from Isaiah Williams, but secondary guards Deyshonee Much and Jahaad Proctor, who had been reliable scorers, were a combined 3-for-11
“This is the team we have,” Iona coach Tim Cluess reaffirmed. “This is the team we’re going to play with every single game. We have to give ourselves a chance to win a lot. They just came out and got on fire to start the second half.
New kids (and new rivalry) on the block. It’s amazing how Manhattan gets overlooked despite winning the last two MAAC championships, isn’t it? Steve Masiello doesn’t mind; he just turns it around as motivation for his team.
However, it’s tough to watch a game like the one Iona and Monmouth played Friday night and not look at these as the top two teams in the MAAC. This rivalry didn’t begin in this game – this was the culmination of a year’s worth of waiting.
Iona and Monmouth split last year’s regular season meetings by a combined three points, including a narrow one point Gael victory in New Rochelle. Then the teams met in the MAAC tournament semifinals and Iona blew the doors off, knocking down a tournament record 19 3-pointers en route to a 95-77 victory. There were heated exchanges during and after that game, but nothing like the scuffle that broke out Friday.
“I think we’re gaining some respect from the better teams, but we have to have more success before it can be a true rivalry,” Rice said, after mentioning he apologized at the beginning of this season for words exchanged after the semifinal meeting. “They’ve been the best team. We’re still new kids on the block trying to come up the ladder. Hopefully we’re getting closer.”
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.