Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Iona, Siena to Duel It Out for MAAC’s Automatic Bid to the NCAA Tournament
Iona is headed back to the MAAC championship game — and they won’t have to face Monmouth for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
No. 3 Iona will face No. 4 Siena in Monday night’s championship game (9 p.m., ESPN 2) after the two teams took out the top two seeds in the semifinals on Sunday.
Iona downed No. 2 Saint Peter’s, 73-65, after Siena stunned top-seeded Monmouth, 89-85, in the first semifinal at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.
Coach Tim Cluess and the Gaels will play in their fifth straight MAAC championship game and sixth in the last seven years. They won the tournament in 2013 and ’16, beating Monmouth last year.
“I’m really proud of my guys, but I’ve had players who’ve worked their tail off and they’re the reason we’ve gotten here so often,” Cluess told Rob Kennedy on ESPN3. “Saint Peter’s played a heck of a game but we’re really happy to be in the game [Monday] night.”
After trailing Saint Peter’s 28-24 at the break, Iona (21-12, 12-8) outscored the Peacocks 49-37 after intermission.
Jordan Washington finished with 22 points, six rebounds and four steals. Jon Severe scored 12 points, Deyshonee Much had 11 and Sam Cassell Jr. 10.
“My team just picked me up,” Washington said. “They told me to believe in myself and that’s what I did. They kept telling me to push myself, push myself and that’s what I did.”
A year ago, the 6-foot-8 Washington went off for 15 points, 13 rebounds and 3 steals when Iona stunned Monmouth in the MAAC championship game, 79-76. He did so hours after learning that a close friend had been killed in a car crash.
Now here he is again, leading the Gaels to the brink of another NCAA championship appearance.
“My emotions are always getting me fired up,” Washington said. “I gotta control it a little bit, but I’ll be alright.”
The emotions will be running high on Monday when Iona plays on Siena’s homecourt, but Washington says the Gaels are ready. They have already beaten Siena in Albany this season, 77-66, on Jan. 27. Siena returned the favor with an 81-79 win at Iona on Feb. 7.
“That game is in the past now, now it’s a new ballgame,” Washington said. “It’s a new season, so we’re going to start playing Siena like that.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.