Iona 84, Quinnipiac 74: Cluess Trusts His Depth

Deyshonee Much, Schadrac Casimir, and Jordan Washington, by most measures the three top returning players for defending MAAC champion Iona, sat on the bench next to Tim Cluess as Mikey Dixon – Quinnipiac’s freshman star in waiting – drilled a three-pointer to cut the Iona lead to a single point Monday night at the Hynes Center.

With 7:20 left, this is usually the juncture where the coach making a point to his players and team relents and resorts back to his “best” team on the floor for crunch time. But Cluess never even looked down the bench. His veteran trio never saw the floor the rest of the way, and Iona … pulled away for an 84-74 victory, continuing a remarkable streak of never being swept in the regular season by a MAAC opponent under Cluess (seven seasons).

Washington was the biggest omission, a potential MAAC Player of the Year candidate when playing well, but he struggled Monday (9 pts., 7 rebs., 6 turnovers) and compounded his tough night by picking up a fourth foul 20 feet from the basket with 9:45 left. As soon as he got to the sideline, Iona (13-8, 6-4) was hit with a bench technical, that may or may not have been due to something Washington said (it was not directly charged to him or it would have been his fifth foul).

Enter Taylor Bessick, who does not have the offensive arsenal Washington does, but does seem to transform the Gaels into a different, but still effective, squad, playing at a little slower tempo, but more sound defensively. Bessick picked up 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in 18 minutes, and Cluess never even thought about bringing Washington back in.

“I love how hard all our guys played, and I think part of it was the fact that they knew Jordan wasn’t out there and they all had to help out rebounding and scoring,” Cluess said. “Taylor Bessick was a beast out there and other guys joined in. When they missed shots, we got the rebound.”

Freshman E.J. Crawford and sophomore Rickey McGill each had 20 points to lead Iona, with McGill – one of the last options off the bench last season – adding 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Casimir and Much were both scoreless in a combined 21 minutes.

“I have to be fair to Rickey, all our non-league games were the first time he started as a college basketball player, so he’s got to get used to being on the court,” Cluess said. “And we’re playing Florida State, Nevada, and some of those teams we played, it’s not an easy situation. He’s getting familiar with what we run, where guys are, what he can take advantage of. He’s also working hard defensively, rebounding the ball, too, he had zero rebounds in 35 minutes at Quinnipiac and he had eight tonight. I thought his personality took over our team tonight.”

There may be other nights where Much, Casimir, and Washington are desperately needed, but Cluess had faith in all his players, and they came through.

“Jordan is one of the best players on the team, so when he gets out of it, we have to step up and that’s what we did,” Crawford said.

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What else did we learn on a rainy night in New Rochelle?:

  1. Different Quinnipiac, different Iona

Seeing Iona win the rebounding battle 51-34 over Quinnipiac and the Bobcats get just 22% of their misses is quite shocking taken historically, but Tom Moore – along with going younger – has made a conscious decision to be a bit different after struggling so much the last two seasons. Quinnipiac (8-12, 5-5) has always played pretty fast, but is up to 28th in adjusted tempo. After ranking dead last nationally in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 in forcing turnovers, Iona had 20 Monday night (24.4%), and the Bobcats are up to 242nd (17.8%).

So while Moore isn’t thrilled about getting creamed on the glass at all, he knows things have changed a bit.

“They were hungrier early in the game than we were, and that’s not typical of what happens with us,” Moore said. “We’re better offensively than we were a year ago, so we kind of offensed our way back into the game the first 15 minutes of the second half, but we dug ourselves too big a hole early.”

Also noteworthy, Iona plays much slower than Quinnipiac (71st), although the two are close in MAAC play.

2) Some good old individual battles

Rickey McGill and Mikey Dixon, two names MAAC fans will probably hear a lot going forward, were engaged in an old-school individual battle down the stretch, complete with clapping of hands in each other’s face and trash talk. There’s a fine line where that devolves from fun into something more than that (as other situations in the MAAC have shown this season), but it didn’t on this night. And it shows a little of the lack of fear from Dixon, who finished with a hard-earned 20 points.

“I was just playing basketball,” Dixon said. “He scored, I scored, it got me a little fired up, but just playing basketball. Nothing personal.”

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3) Some positives for Quinnipiac

Even with the rebounding problems and shooting just 36.6% from the field, Quinnipiac was in the game at Fortress Hynes (somewhere they’ve never won) until the final minute. The Bobcats were picked ahead of only Niagara in the MAAC in the preseason, but look better than that. Per KenPom, they have played the third toughest MAAC schedule thus far (behind Fairfield and Marist), and – although they do have to travel to Monmouth next – might have a chance at the top five if they continue to improve.

“We’re 5-5 in the league,” Moore said. “People picked us 10th in the preseason. Our early schedule on paper appears to be a little harder than the second half will be. We have Monmouth Friday on the road, but I like the direction we’re headed. We’re developing some team poise and some team toughness at a much quicker rate then I thought we would, to be honest. Overall, the arrow’s up, this is a tough place to win, and we put ourselves in position late, we just couldn’t get it done.”

Game 51: Quinnipiac at Iona – Golden Bally holding court with a few more of his buddies before tip. #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

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Bonus) For a good cause

Iona and its coaches once again went casual, wearing sweatsuits on the sideline to raise awareness for Cystic Fibrosis. Here is an interview with one of the organizers,  John Judge.

And for a small fee, you could go home with Golden Bally’s new friend with all money donated to the cause.

 

Game on from New Rochelle! Little late tonight. #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

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