Iona took down local foe Manhattan 82-67 Tuesday night in the 2017 renewal of what in recent years has been the MAAC’s premier rivalry.
After a back and forth first half, the Gaels tapped into their firepower in the final 20 minutes, using a 25-6 run to jet away from the Jaspers and run away with their fourth league win of the year. Schadrac Casimir led the way with 21 points, his second 20-point effort in the last three games.
Manhattan held the lead for a majority of the first half as they held Iona to 35.3% shooting in the opening frame, but the Gaels got a boost at the horn as Rickey McGill drilled a deep 3-pointer a few steps inside the halfcourt line to knot the score at 43 as the first half expired.
The Jaspers were held to just 24 points in the second half while Iona improved to 50% shooting over the frame, using its big run to put the game out of reach in the final minutes.
Two of the players who may well prove central to Iona’s success down the stretch are just now working up to their best form. Schadrac Casimir and Deyshonee Much may be Iona’s two best shooters, but have each dealt with their own issues through the midpoint of the season.
Casimir, who redshirted last season after suffering a groin injury, underwent multiple surgeries in the offseason and remains questionable to return to 100% of his capability this season. However, Casimir has turned on the heat in the last ten days.
The Stamford, CT native posted a season-high 27 points including 7-9 shooting from behind the arc in the Gaels’ 98-75 rout of Canisius January 8 before another lights-out performance against the Jaspers. Casimir’s output from Tuesday raised his season average to 7.1 ppg.
“He still isn’t that same aggressive player that he was as a freshman, but he is showing signs of it,” head coach Tim Cluess said of Casimir’s progress. “He’s starting to break things down now and get into the gut and make plays for guys, and that’s who he is when he’s healthy.”
Meanwhile, Much had missed four consecutive games before returning to the Gaels’ lineup Saturday at Quinnipiac, where he posted 13 points on 5-17 shooting. Overall, Much has missed eight of the Gaels’ 19 games this season, and even left the team for a short time at the beginning of the new year.
The talented junior had missed four games earlier in the year with a knee injury, but his recent absence had been characterized as a personal matter. Much posted just seven points on 3-10 shooting and a 1-5 mark from behind the arc against Manhattan, but did add in four assists as he helped facilitate the second half attack.
“Tonight I thought he let the game come to him a little bit more and not trying to force it,” Cluess said of Much. “Early on, I thought he was trying to make a lot of plays and make up for lost time. He really wants to be good out there, but sometimes you’ve got to just relax and play with the guys around you and let the game be easier. When he started thinking pass in the second half, he made three big plays in a row that were instrumental in us opening the spread a little bit.”
Much averaged 13.0 ppg last season and was selected as a member of the Preseason All-MAAC Third Team. If the duo of Casimir and Much are able to regain their past form and showcase that talent on a consistent basis, the Gaels are sure to be a handful.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Iona’s win was the lack of contribution from Jordan Washington. The Gaels’ senior forward has been a force in the paint all season long, but managed just four points and eight rebounds against the Jaspers as he found himself in early foul trouble.
Washington was held scoreless on seven shots in the first half before picking up his third and fourth fouls within the first minute of the second half. In total, he was on the court for just 12 minutes and failed to record a point until the game’s final five minutes.
Despite the absence of their primary interior force, Iona was able to ride its rejuvenated backcourt to a runaway victory.
“J Wash is obviously a big part of our team,” Casimir said of Washington. “When he goes down, it’s up to us to pick him up. He’s carried us most of the season. When we were down, he picked us up, so now it’s time for us to step up.”
Included in that backcourt is grad student Jon Severe, who transferred from Fordham in the offseason and thus was well-accustomed to playing rivalry games against Manhattan.
“At Fordham it was the same thing, so I knew what was going to happen,” Severe said. “They play tough, so just be ready.”
Severe finished with 18 points, his highest total since posting 20 against Towson on December 22. The Gaels’ scoresheet was rounded out by 12 points and five assists from McGill and nine points from freshman E.J. Crawford.
The Jaspers, who fell to 2-6 in MAAC play with the loss, were paced by 20 points from junior Zavier Turner. It was the fourth consecutive 20-point performance for Turner, who raised his season average to 17.1 ppg, Zane Waterman, fresh off a career-high 35-point effort against Rider Friday night, added 15 points against the Gaels.
The Jaspers will hit the road for four of their next five games, beginning with a contest at Monmouth on Friday. Meanwhile, Iona will play four of their next six at the Hynes Center starting with a meeting against Fairfield, also on Friday night.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.