Iona looked like the Gaels of old Saturday afternoon, taking down Marist 93-80 at the Hynes Athletic Center to restart MAAC play on the final day of 2016.
The Gaels ignited on a 35-7 run midway through the second half, quelling the hot-shooting Red Foxes and turning what had been a close contest into a runaway. Marist led by as many as 12 points in the first half and shot 55.2% from the field in the first twenty minutes, but had no answers for the Gaels who shot 63.3% in the first half and 55.7% for the game.
Here are Four Thoughts from Saturday’s game:
1.) Iona’s Search For Leadership – Senior forward Jordan Washington has been Iona’s best player this season, averaging 17.1 ppg and 6.9 rpg entering New Year’s Eve and adding 26 more points along with eight boards against Marist. However, Friday’s game marked the first occasion this season in which Washington came off the bench.
“It was nothing that was bad; there was no discipline,” head coach Tim Cluess reassured after the win. “I just felt we needed a change, I wanted to make a statement to our team and I thought Jordan handled it great. We hadn’t been playing well, so we were pretty willing to try anything about now and I was happy it worked out for us.”
The strategy of bringing a top forward off the bench was one Cluess employed in 2014 with David Laury, who would go on to win MAAC Player of the Year in 2015.
Cluess recently lamented his team’s lack of leadership following the graduation of seniors A.J. English, Isaiah Williams, and Ibn Muhammad. As a senior, Washington is thought of as a leader on the team, but is a worry to fall into foul trouble on any given night.
“He just wanted me to change a little of my emotions,” Washington said in regard to a conversation he had with Cluess. “Sometimes I get out of it and get out of game and my teammates have to come control me. I get too angry too fast and referees aren’t going to like it.”
Junior guard Deyshonee Much, who appeared to be one of the Gaels’ primary offensive threats entering the season, was a healthy scratch on Friday. With redshirt sophomore Schadrac Casimir still working his way into top form following multiple offseason surgeries, there is still room for players to take the reins of leadership in New Rochelle.
2.) Marist Showing Signs – The Red Foxes are still some time away from becoming a MAAC power, but they are showing signs of being a competitive team in head coach Mike Maker’s third year at the helm.
Despite dropping a contest to Niagara in early December, Iona has been nigh untouchable on their home court at Hynes during Cluess’ six-plus year tenure in New Rochelle. The Gaels have won 21 of their last 24 MAAC contests on their home floor, but the Red Foxes put a scare into them on Saturday.
Three Marist players finished in double figures, including Brian Parker’s flirt with a triple-double. The sophomore guard finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists.
Marist held the lead for a majority of the game, only coming undone midway through the second half when they went over ten minutes with just one field goal while Iona spurted away.
“We’re still in the infant stages of a rebuilding project,” Maker said of his team. “That’s who we are, but I still think we can have success. We don’t handle adversity on the court well right now as a team.”
For a program Maker says he tries to emulate after Iona, Marist certainly shot the ball as if they were wearing Maroon. The Red Foxes outshot Iona 15-7 from 3-point range, a major reason they were able to hold the lead well into the second half.
“We’re a young growing program that wants to play a style that quite honestly is very similar to Iona,” Maker said. “Not running on makes, but spacing the floor, valuing the 3-point shot, sharing the ball, and we’re not there yet.”
However, Marist fell apart late in key aspects, including being outscored 50-12 in the paint, 21-6 off turnovers, 18-4 on fast break points, and losing the turnover battle 15-4.
“The big difference in the game was points off turnovers, and that’s been our Achilles heel this year,” Maker said. “They’re like sharks that smell blood when there’s a turnover and it’s a layup or a 3 on the other end. They get energized that way, and I thought we got deflated and stopped playing for a stretch.”
3.) In The Flow. A major reason Iona was able not only to dominate the turnover battle, but also score over 90 points for the third time this season, was the offensive flow generated at the point by Sam Cassell Jr. and Rickey McGill.
The duo combined for 17 of Iona’s 21 assists, while the sophomore McGill notched his first career double-double on 18 points and 10 assists.
“I think it was really important for us and Rickey’s game that he shared the ball,” Cluess said of McGill. “I think he had a few games in a row that he was looking too much to be a scorer and our whole team wasn’t moving the ball. Today he really flowed the ball and took advantage of scoring opportunities. We wanted him to be more aggressive, but we also think he can get to the rim well and I think he showed that today.”
4.) Getting Funky. Sophomore forward Ryan Funk led the way with 17 points for Marist, with all five of his field goals coming in from behind the arc. The product of St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut, Funk has emerged as a reliable threat for Marist, starting every game this season.
After averaging 6.1 ppg in his freshman campaign last season, Funk has more than doubled his average so far this year to 13.5 ppg. An emotional Maker choked up postgame when asked about the strides Funk has made over the past year.
“He’s why we’re going to turn,” Maker said of Funk. “That guy, because he’s made the most progress of any player that I’ve coached in 29 years from one year to the next. He puts in the work, he’s passionate, he’s tough, and he wasn’t one of our mainstays a year ago. He played a lot as a freshman, but he didn’t start too much. This year he just earned it. He’s become arguably our most productive player in just about every category.”
Marist’s substantial sophomore class also includes Baltimore native Isaiah Lamb, who was a perfect 5-5 from 3-point range Saturday afternoon. He, along with Parker, Funk, and others, give the Red Foxes a strong group to build around for years to come.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.