A wise man once said “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
This year, a lot of things looked the same, but the outcome was very different. Last year, Canisius was the lone MAAC team to walk onto Iona’s home court and come away with a victory. This year, the Golden Griffins looked poised to steal yet another game from the Gaels.
Thanks to standout games from David Laury and Isaiah Williams, Iona made sure not to drop another home game to their rivals from western New York. Here are three thoughts on the Gaels’ victory:
The Gaels are so tough to beat at home. The numbers are in fact staggering. Iona has lost just seven home games in Tim Cluess’ tenure as head coach. The Gaels are 50-7 overall and 34-4 in MAAC play since luring Cluess to New Rochelle in the spring of 2010.
Iona’s lone home loss in MAAC play last year and the last time they dropped a game at the Hynes Center was to this same Canisius team. Though the word “same” should be taken with a grain of salt.
Sure, the Griffs came into the Hynes Center last year and left with an 85-83 victory, but that team was led by star Billy Baron. Baron, the nation’s 4th leading scorer a year ago with 24.1 ppg, led the Griffs to victory that night on the strength of 29 points.
“We talked about it several times,” Cluess said in regard to last year’s game. “They almost had us again today. Our guys sometimes think just because we’re playing at home it’s going to be a win. It doesn’t work that way. You have to go out and fight every game because the teams who are coming in to play us are very good teams who want the game as badly as we want it.”
Tonight’s three point loss was the closest any opponent has come to downing the Gaels in their own building since Saint Peter’s held them to just 62 points last February. The Peacocks also lost that game by just three.
This year’s Golden Griffins are an entirely different story from last year’s squad, and despite what you may think, that’s not a bad thing. The one man show led by Billy Baron has transformed into a cohesive team unit with a multitude of options. By the numbers, the Griffs are off to an average start with a 3-3 MAAC record and 8-7 overall, but dive a little deeper and the future looks bright for Jim Baron’s squad.
Though the Griffs have started just 3-3 in conference play, all three wins have come on the road (at Saint Peter’s, Niagara, and Marist). Sure, they dropped a pair of home games to top dog Monmouth and a surging Manhattan squad, but the western New York trip is never easy for the rest of the league.
“We lost a couple of tough games in last two minutes,” Baron said. “We’re right there with them. Losing four starters after winning 41 games in two years, I think we’re doing pretty good. I told the guys we can be as good as we want to be with such a young group.”
The Griffs spread the ball around with great success Saturday afternoon. Six players scored at least eight points with sophomore guard Zach Lewis leading the way with 16 points.
Canisius won’t have to wait long to get another shot at the Gaels. Iona takes the trip across the state next week and will face the Griffs on the 18th.
Iona’s versatility continues to impress. The Gaels are like a MAAC hydra – shut down one player and two more tear you to pieces.
While MAAC leading scorer A.J. English was held to single digits for just the second time this year and freshman sensation Schadrac Casimir was denied double digits for the second consecutive game, it was Laury and Williams who carried the Gaels over the Griffs.
Williams led the way with 26 points while Laury tore up the paint for 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. Laury has scored in double figures every game this season.
Though the Gaels were out-shot 11-10 from behind the arc, they controlled the paint 34-24. It was the fourth time this season Iona made fewer 3-pointers than the opponent, and the first time they have prevailed in such a game.
“Shots weren’t falling like they usually fall,” Laury said. “We can score in a multitude of ways and that’s what we did tonight. We attacked the basket more, we got a couple of put-backs, I got a couple of baskets on the inside. We just try to mix it up a little bit.”
The four headed beast of Laury, Williams, English, and Casimir will be tough for any MAAC opponent to contain – or keep up with. Add in supporting players such as Ryden Hines and Kelvin Amayo (who each contributed six points Saturday afternoon) and the Gaels will be trouble for anyone to contain.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.