Iona 72, Manhattan 51 – Gaels Prove Much The Best

Iona kept its hopes alive for the #2 seed in the upcoming MAAC tournament with a 72-51 thrashing of crosstown rival Manhattan Friday night at the Hynes Athletic Center in New Rochelle.

Tim Cluess has his team in position to grab the #2 seed in the MAAC tournament, but they’ll need help

Billed in recent years as the best rivalry in the MAAC – thanks to the Gaels and Jaspers squaring off in three straight league title games between 2013 and 2015 – results have been unusually one-sided. Friday night’s win was Iona’s fourth in a row over the Jaspers and its sixth in seven meetings. However, Manhattan made the most of its last win, which came in the 2015 title game.

Iona’s Deyshonee Much put together one of his better efforts of the season to lead the Gaels with 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. Jordan Washington posted his seventh double-double of the season on 18 points and 10 rebounds. Schadrac Casimir knocked down three of four from downtown to finish with 11 points, while freshman E.J. Crawford added 10.

The Gaels finished the night with 12 made 3-pointers, the 19th time this season they have made ten or more in a game. Iona improved its record to 17-2 in such contests.

Manhattan opened the game with five quick points from Calvin Crawford, but Iona responded with a 13-0 spurt punctuated by a pair of corner threes from Casimir. Although the Jaspers were able to regain a narrow lead midway through the half, a 20-3 Iona run leading into intermission gave the Gaels a comfortable lead that would never fall below double-digits.

The Jaspers’ Zane Waterman led all scorers with 20 points and added eight rebounds, while rookie Aaron Walker Jr. continued his hot streak with a 15-point performance, his third consecutive in double figures.

Here are three thoughts from Friday night in New Rochelle:

Second Best Isn’t So Bad – Entering the final game MAAC play, Iona trails Saint Peter’s by one game in the race for the league’s second seed in next week’s conference tournament. Up until last year, seeding in the conference tournament held no difference aside from a team’s next opponent. But with a recent change to the tournament’s structure, the top two seed have a built-in advantage.

Both the #1 and #2 seeds begin tournament play on Friday, then would have a day off on Saturday before resuming play on Sunday if they win their quarterfinal matchup. What this essentially means is instead of years past when teams were asked to win three games in three days, the top two seeds must win three games in four days.

Steve Masiello has a few extra days to prepare his team for a MAAC tournament run

With Monmouth well clear of the pack for the league’s top spot, the second seed comes down to Iona and Saint Peter’s. Thanks to a season-sweep of the Peacocks, Iona owns the tiebreaker should Saint Peter’s fall to Canisius on Sunday. But in order to take advantage of that situation, the Gaels must take care of business themselves.

No easy task, considering Iona must face off against those 17-2 Hawks, who handed the Gaels a 92-74 defeat in West Long Branch earlier this year.

“Whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said, admitting the chase for the #2 seed isn’t a locker room topic. “We have not played at the level where we can control it.”

Time For Manhattan – Steve Masiello would be the first to admit the Jasper have had a disappointing season, but they do have a small leg up on the competition heading into the MAAC tournament.

With 11 teams in the league, one must finish its season earlier than the rest. In this year’s case, that team is Manhattan. The Jaspers’ defeat at Iona ends their regular season with a 5-15 conference record and they will start play Thursday night as either the #10 or #11 seed in Albany.

With an extra two days of preparation, the Jaspers may have a bit of an advantage over their first-round opponent, though they will not know said opponent until Sunday evening.

“I’ll let you know Monday night at 9:30,” head coach Steve Masiello said of any potential benefit those extra days would be. “I hope it does. I hope this helps us a little, but hopefully I can answer that with a smile next Monday.”

The Jaspers have put together impressive runs in the conference tournament under Masiello, who owns a 9-3 record as head coach in MAAC Tournament play. That .750 winning percentage is the fourth-best in league history.

Iona’s Deyshonee Much said Friday was the most confident he’s felt all year

“After Sunday, everyone is 0-0,” Masiello added. “That’s how we’re looking at it. We understand what we don’t do well, what we can do well, and we’re going to concentrate on that and move forward.”

Whether Manhattan will be able to nearly match their season’s win total in a single weekend and capture four games in five days is yet to be seen, but stranger things have happened.

Consistency Is Key – Tim Cluess’ Iona squads have always been known for great guard play, but this year’s group has provided mixed returns. Amongst the group of Much, Casimir, Jon Severe, Sam Cassell Jr., and Rickey McGill, no player averages more than 11.8 points per game nor less than 6.7.

Casimir and Much in particular have shown bursts of ability, but yet to find a consistent rhythm at any point this season. Casimir fought through multiple offseason surgeries to get back in playing form, and has exploded for 20 or more points on three different occasions, but has only hit double-figures four other times this year.

“He’s doing well on occasion,” Cluess said of Casimir. “His thing that he hasn’t done yet is been able to do it back to back on short rest. I think Sunday will be a really good indicator for us if he can do those back to back games. He doesn’t have to play 20-something minutes, but he has to be effective for the minutes that he gets out there.”

Much dealt with his own injury concerns earlier in the year and even left the team for a short period. Despite a promising sophomore campaign in his first year with the Gaels last season during which he averaged 13.0 ppg and shot 44.7% from behind the arc, Much had never been able to find his groove in 2017.

The junior has been shut out four times in 22 games played this season, but his 19-point outburst Friday night may be the first sign of a strong stretch run for Much, who said after the game he’s the most confident he’s been all year.

Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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