For the second consecutive year, Iona earned a season sweep of local rival Manhattan. The Gaels placed five players in double figures for the fourth time this season, led by senior A.J. English’s 23 points.
English, who was held to a season-low four points in the Gaels’ first meeting with Manhattan (the only game this season English has been held to single digits), added six assists and finished 6-for-11 from behind the arc.
The Gaels’ star guard was joined in double figures by Jordan Washington (16), Deyshonee Much (15), Isaiah Williams (13), and Aaron Rountree (11).
Despite Iona’s comfortable margin of victory, it was Manhattan who came out of the gate with a flourish. After the teams exchanged 3-pointers for their initial baskets of the evening, the Jaspers used a 17-2 run to open up a 15 point lead less than six minutes into the contest. It would be Manhattan’s largest lead of the night.
The Gaels cut the lead to just one in the final minutes of the first half, but Manhattan took a five point lead into intermission. From there, however, it was all Iona. The Gaels outscored Manhattan 43-25 in the final 20 minutes, where English posted 16 of his 23 points. The guard’s layup with 12:25 remaining put Iona up for good.
Here are three thoughts from Iona’s victory over Manhattan. To check out our photo gallery from this game, click here.
1.) Iona has bought in defensively. For the Gaels, effort had been the missing ingredient to unlocking their defensive identity, but now that effort is coming on a more consistent basis.
“It all starts with effort,” head coach Tim Cluess said. “If you’re going to put a good effort out, you’re going to have success more often than not. It’s just whether or not you want to outwork your opponents.”
Manhattan’s Rich Williams, who nearly matched his career high in the first half alone, was held to just three second half points. That small prize against Iona’s second half defense was enough to earn Williams a new career high 27 for the night.
Although Manhattan has the reputation of being the team to force turnovers, it was Iona who most benefitted from those miscues. The Gaels forced 20 Manhattan turnovers, and turned those mistakes into 30 points.
The Gaels have now earned road wins over Manhattan, Monmouth and Siena en route to a four game winning streak heading in to the regular season finale against Canisius Sunday afternoon. Overall, Iona has won eight of nine contests since dropping two out of three to Rider and Fairfield.
The Gaels, who will not be the top seed in the conference tournament for the first time since 2013 (the last time they won the tournament), have used those early losses to fuel a run that has them headed to Albany one of the hottest teams in the league.
”We were up 16 at Rider and lost to them,” Rountree noted as a turning point in the season. “We let them smack us in the mouth in the second half and beat us. They scored at will in the second half. If any game was the game-changer, that was one of our last few losses.”
2.) The Jaspers might not have the magic this year. I’m going to commit a cardinal sin right now and write off the back-to-back MAAC champions. Alright, now that I’ve made it to Steve Masiello’s bulletin board, the Jaspers are probably going to be cutting down the nets again next month.
Okay, maybe it’s not impossible for “the process” to come to fulfillment once again and end with the Jaspers atop the MAAC, but Manhattan will have to navigate unfamiliar territory to get there. Although the Jaspers are 8-1 in the conference tournament over the last three years, they have never had to play their way out of the opening round. This year Manhattan will be one of six teams opening play on Thursday night.
“We’re going to treat that [first game] as a road game,” Masiello said of the approach heading to Albany. “We’re going to go play in a one game, single game on Thursday. Ironically the rule I fought against is going to help us, because then we’re off Friday. Then we’re going to play a MAAC tournament.”
Following the Jaspers’ first loss at Iona, Masiello spoke about improving with each opportunity, harkening back to last year when his team was swept by the Gaels in the regular season and went on to beat Iona in the conference championship game.
The Jaspers improved by one point from their 14 point loss to Iona last month to their 13 point defeat Friday. Those two contests provided the largest margin of victory for either team in the Cluess/Masiello era. In short, it would take a monumental effort for Manhattan to turn the tables on Iona should they meet again in Albany.
3.) A.J. English remains modest in the twilight of his college career. The Gaels’ star guard has racked up over 500 points this season and been in the spotlight of NBA scouts for over a year, but has remained focused on his team’s success over personal accolades.
“We won, so it doesn’t really matter how many points I had,” English said after Friday’s win. “I could have zero points. As long as we win, I’m fine with that.”
As mentioned, English has reached double figures in all but one game he’s played this season. The senior has compiled 14 games with more than 20 points, six games with over 30 points, and has eclipsed the 40 point barrier twice, but you won’t hear him brag about any of that. It comes with the territory of being asked to carry the team’s backcourt.
“I haven’t seen A.J. play this way in a long time,” Masiello said. “He’s mad, and A.J. English mad isn’t good for anyone. I don’t know [what he’s mad at] but I don’t want to be in front of it right now. I think he is as good a college player as there is at any level. If he was at a higher level, his numbers might be better.”
English has a career in professional basketball waiting for him after graduation, whether it be in the NBA or at some other level, but the Delaware native remains focused on taking it one game at a time, for as many games as he has left in an Iona uniform. Oh, and as for those scouts?
“If you don’t know what A.J. brings to the table, then you shouldn’t be doing a scouting job,” Cluess added.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.