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.
Powered by Return of Isaiah Williams, Iona Could be Dangerous in March
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Powered by a game-high 26 points from A.J. English and the return of defensive-minded elastic man Isaiah Williams, Iona beat arch-rival Manhattan for a second time this season and could be a problem come March.
With their 79-75 victory, Iona has won 11 straight overall and improved to 13-0 at the Hynes Center this season. They were already locked in as the No. 1 seed in the upcoming MAAC Tournament and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Gaels (24-6, 17-2 MAAC) as a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think Iona does things that nobody else in the country does, and that’s why they’re so dangerous in a tournament, one game, no preparation,” said Manhattan coach Steve Masiello, who would just as soon avoid a third meeting with the Gaels in the MAAC Tournament. “I think we do things that no one else in the country does, that’s why we could be so dangerous in a one-game, but it’s all about the matchup.
“If they get a good matchup and they get a team that tries to go up and down and space them zone, that’s going to play to Iona’s hands and they could make noise because they can put five guys on the floor that can make shots at all times, and there’s not many teams in the country that can do that. So they’re just as dangerous as anyone.”
Of course, in order for the Gaels to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the third time since 2012, they will need to handle business in the MAAC Tournament, which runs March 5-9 in Albany.
Manhattan can still be the No. 3 seed if they against Quinnipiac, and Masiello would be just fine with avoiding the Gaels until at least the final, or altogether if possible.
“I’m not a guy that believes in seeing good teams three times,” Masiello said. “I’d be much happier not playing Iona again and seeing them go out early. I’m not into the sizzle factor. They’re a good team and I don’t like playing them. You like playing them because it’s good for college basketball. It’s good for our guys, but it’s a tough out.”
Manhattan’s Ashton Pankey, who went for 20 points in the loss, said he wouldn’t mind seeing the Gaels again, though.
“I would love to see them again,” Pankey said of the MAAC Tournament.
Still, with the return of the 6-7 Williams, the Gaels have their best defensive player back. On this night he contributed 12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks, including one where he swatted a shot about eight feet away from the basket. And that came after he hadn’t played since mid-January because of a broken fifth metatarsal that required a screw be put into his right foot.
“He’s only had two partial practices and he’s only about 20-25 percent of himself,” Iona coach Tim Cluess said. “He must’ve forgot he was injured. He went up and had some great blocks and some big drives as well.”
With Williams anchoring Iona’s press-and-run style of play, it will be tough for MAAC opponents to take them out, and possibly even more so for opponents in the NCAA Tournament who aren’t as familiar with the Gaels style of play.
“For us we like to press-and-run, and it’s a fun style of play for our guys and I think it gets you going on both ends of the court,” Cluess said.
Asked if his team would change its style at all in the postseason, Cluess defiantly said no and that succeeding in the postseason is all about making shots. The Gaels fired up 22 3-pointers and made eight against Manhattan, with the junior English going 4-for-10 from beyond the arc and 7-of-15 from the field.
“We will play it during the postseason, whether or not it will be effective, it’s all up to us making plays,” Cluess said. “But that’s how we play, we don’t change no matter who we play. I think some teams have a hard time with it if you haven’t seen it before.
“Obviously, we have to shoot the ball well. We’re going to have to shoot it really well within the MAAC, but then as you go further you have to shoot it even better because that’s what we’re built for. We don’t have all the horses some other teams have.
“Most of the teams that get knocked off at that level are teams that didn’t shoot the ball well that night, no matter how much size they have. If you don’t knock down 3’s you lose, and that’s it.”
FREE THROWSJermaine Lawrence didn’t play for Manhattan because of what Masiello called “team rules.” Asked if the Cincinnati transfer would play Sunday Masiello said, “We’ll see.”…Cluess said he thinks both English and senior David Laury (13 points, 11 rebounds) should be in the mix for the Haggerty Award. “In all fairness, I think both [Laury] and A.J. are deserving. They both had great years…They’re my guys and I’d put them up against anybody. If were up to me I’d split it between the two of them.”…St. Benedict’s Prep senior guard Eli Cain visits Iona March 13-14.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.