It wasn’t the swashbuckling Iona team that we’ve been used to seeing over the last few years Sunday afternoon against Saint Peter’s. How much of that was due to the Peacocks’ style of play? Do we overrate such discussions?
The game eventually went to overtime, but through regulation was at 57 possessions, which would have been one of the slowest games in Division I this season, and by far the slowest the Gaels have ever played under Tim Cluess. As it was, the 64-possession overtime contest had the least possessions for a MAAC regular season game since … playing Saint Peter’s at the Hynes Center last year.
Even John Dunne, one of the least angry Division I coaches you’ll ever meet, is tired of talking about how his team is 345th (of 351) in adjusted tempo, and would rather speak about how his Peacocks are 8-4 in the MAAC, and – even with a loss Sunday – completed seven games in 15 days in decent shape, tied for second with Iona in the conference standings.
“That’s a stat that a lot of people like to throw around, but in reality, we’re four possessions fewer than the national average,” Dunne said. “We’re talking about four possessions. Sometimes, kids read that as, ‘Oh my God, if we played faster we’d get 25 more shots.’ That’s not the case, we’re talking about four possessions. At the end of the day, we’re going to defend, it’s what we’re going to hang our hat on. We’re going to slow the game up because we’re not going to give easy baskets, and try to make opponents work for their scores. As you saw, if anyone was really paying attention, when we were open with clear looks, we weren’t afraid to shoot them. You have to be a little careful with teams like Iona and Monmouth on your transition. We’re not going to outrun either one of those teams, so we have to pick our spots.”
It’s been a bit of an odd season for Iona (14-8, 8-4), who is trying to integrate lots of new players after winning another MAAC title last March, and Deyshonee Much – the player who hit the game-winning 4-point play in overtime – left the team in late December, missing four games, before returning.
— Iona Athletics (@ICGaels) January 30, 2017
Playing with two new guards, both graduate students, had made things a bit different. Jon Severe (Fordham) and Sam Cassell Jr. (UConn) come from programs that play very slow basketball (Fordham 241st, UConn 292nd last season). But both are very talented as they proved Sunday: Cassell had 17 points and 5 assists, while Severe added 11 points and 7 rebounds. Without them, Iona likely doesn’t pull out the 69-66 victory, their fifth straight and seventh in eight tries at home this season.
“(Saint Peter’s) is a good team. They’ve gotten a lot better since we played them in the first game and they’re tough to play,” Severe said.
Yes, did I forget to mention that before? Iona won the game, which is the main purpose in competing, after all.
And the Gaels have been very good at a slower pace this season, as they showed in winning the Great Alaska Shootout. They’ve swept plodding Saint Peter’s, and had trouble in fast-paced games at Quinnipiac and Fairfield.
So maybe it is possible that we can overrate some of the analytics we spend much of our time poring over on this site. Iona is back up to 24th nationally in three-point shooting (39.2%) after going 13-23 Sunday, and leads the MAAC in offensive efficiency (which it has done six straight years, or every season Cluess has been in New Rochelle), and even if they’re not doing it quite as fast, it’s still pretty darn effective.
“I just thought the kids played their hearts out and never gave up,” Cluess said. “It was a different style game for us, Saint Peter’s did a great job of sharing the ball, moving the ball, and using clock. And they made shots (10-23 from three). John’s doing a terrific job with that team. They play on both ends of the floor, and our guys just gutted it out tonight.”
Meanwhile, regardless of pace, Saint Peter’s plays very good defense (79th nationally and tops in the MAAC), and it was an intriguing battle that was really fought to a draw, although Iona found one more play in the end to go to 54-7 at Hynes under Cluess and 26-3 in their last 29 at home. If everything stayed the same as it is now, it would make for a very intriguing MAAC semifinal game between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds on an early March Sunday evening in Albany, no matter what pace it’s played at.
What else did we learn Sunday in New Rochelle?:
1) Return of Deyshonee Much
After a 93-87 loss to Fairfield on Jan. 2, Cluess said that Much was no longer with the team and wasn’t sure if he was returning. He missed two more games (four total), but didn’t really come back until Friday when he scored 20 points and had 7 rebounds in a win over Siena in Albany. He played 36 minutes, and scored only 13 points, but was 4-6 from behind the arc and added 8 rebounds. Iona has depth, E.J. Crawford played only 13 minutes with Much largely taking his place Sunday, but Much may be someone who can put Iona over the top at the MAAC Tournament.
“He’s been coming around in the last few games and the last few practices,” Cluess said. “He’s trying to play with more intensity on the defensive end end and that’s a big key. In the games where he’s rebounded well, he’s played well. I love the fact that he’s not being one dimensional, either shooting or not, he’s contributing in other ways. I was really happy he made that big shot at the end. We’re still trying to get him back in the groove, he’s been a little indecisive, but he certainly wasn’t on that last shot.”
— Iona Men’s Hoops (@IonaGaelsMBB) January 29, 2017
2) Saint Peter’s still OK
Dunne was upset at another close loss to Iona, but he was also realistic, his team played very well in a hostile environment, and has proven it will likely be a factor the rest of the way in the MAAC. And while their style of play gets a lot of publicity, Trevis Wyche has played himself into one of the best players in the conference (17 pts., 6 rebs., 4 assists Sunday), now a legitimate offensive threat. Quadir Welton struggled a bit, shooting 3-10 and committing 6 turnovers, but he still had 10 rebounds, and made Jordan Washington’s night (15 pts., 7 rebs.) extremely difficult.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Dunne said. “Maybe we were a little nervous to start the game. I thought we gave up a couple of layups that we shouldn’t have, but then I thought we settled down, we made some early shots that kind of relaxed us. I thought we controlled the first half very well. In the second half, their energy level was really, really good. The fact that we just played our seventh game in 15 days, on the road against a really talented, good team, played them to overtime and had a chance to win it with two seconds to go, I’m very proud.”
Oooooovertime. Trevis Wyche fairly close for Saint Peter’s: pic.twitter.com/QCggFgER97
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) January 29, 2017
Saint Peter’s does have some disturbing offensive numbers, including just 331st in two-point shooting (43.4%), but their defense means they will likely be in almost every game, no matter who they’re playing.
3) Almost a giant error
Iona had a 69-66 lead late in overtime when Nick Griffin (who played well) missed a corner three. Taylor Bessick grabbed the rebound and that appeared to be it, but in celebration, Bessick forgot to let the clock run out before moving and just walked away with the ball. The traveling violation left just 0.8 seconds left, thankfully for Iona, and Saint Peter’s could not get a good look at the basket. To be fair to Bessick, it was a strange spot, usually a team fouls, but evidently the Peacocks just figured there wasn’t enough time to do anything and would just concede.
“I really couldn’t share what I was thinking then, because those words are not something I want out in public space,” Cluess said. “I thought maybe there was a whistle I didn’t hear. I thought he was being fouled, so I was as shocked as anyone when he started walking out of there. I thought he knew something I didn’t know.”