Iona 94. NJIT 80: Keeping Jordan Washington On The Floor

Picture if you will, a basketball world where you can commit as many fouls as you would like, without fear of disqualification. Basketball is virtually the only sport where that’s the case, after all. Sure, other sports have penalties and violent conduct is sure to see you removed from participation in just about any athletic endeavor.

But a specified number of common fouls having a direct link to a player’s removal for the rest of the contest? Only our beloved hoops.

Now picture Iona senior Jordan Washington in that blissful no-foul out utopia. Washington has been borderline unstoppable for the last two seasons, a matchup quandary (especially for mid-major opponents) at 6’8”, especially when surrounded with the shooters that the Gaels seem to breed. He led the nation in usage last season (involved in 38.5% of Iona possessions), and is fifth this season. Washington also checks in second nationally in points per minute (behind the nation’s leading scorer, Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene at 30.8 ppg) and he is also sixth in number of minutes played … on his own team (20.7 minutes per game)?

It’s not some bizarre strategy by Tim Cluess, who would love to have him out there more. He’s just always in foul trouble. Of Iona’s 10 games this season, Washington has fouled out three times, finished with four fouls four other times, and had three in the remaining three.

Wednesday was a perfect example of the enigma that is Jordan Washington. Against an undersized NJIT squad, he finished with 27 points and seven rebounds while getting to the foul line 13 times in just 18 minutes of action. (Washington was second in the country in fouls drawn last season and sixth this season.)

“He’s a terrific mid-major low post player,” NJIT coach Brian Kennedy said. “He’s really just a tough matchup. He’s hard for the bigger guys to guard. He’s a heck of a player.”

He had two fouls at halftime, and was largely disciplined for the most part in the second half, until with 7:57 left, he missed a layup (Washington is also shooting 61.5% from the field, so he doesn’t miss too much), and then fouled NJIT’s Tim Coleman in a quick bout of frustration. After being involved in a minor incident earlier in the game that resulted in nothing but warnings, some post-whistle chirping with Coleman drew a double technical. That’s also a personal foul in college hoops, meaning Washington quickly had four.

He wouldn’t play the rest of the evening.

“Play physical, play strong, and stay out of trouble on the floor,” Washington said. “That’s basically it. With Clu (Cluess), every time you get a technical foul, he subs you out to maybe learn your lesson, so that was for me to learn my lesson.”

It didn’t matter Wednesday, Iona prevailed comfortably, 94-80, over NJIT. But in another time in another place, say West Long Branch, N.J. or Albany, N.Y., might it? Taylor Bessick has done a great job as Washington’s understudy, especially on the defensive end, but keeping Washington on the floor (he scored 30 against Top 100 KenPom Ohio Saturday when he was able to play 32 minutes) may be the difference between a chance at a second straight MAAC title and heading to the CIT.

Jordan Washington is second in the nation in points per minute this season.

Jordan Washington is second in the nation in both usage and points per minute this season.

“It’s not his aggressiveness. If you watch him, he gets so many little chippy calls,” Cluess said. “That’s where he’s got to stop. We try to get him out when he looks like he’s getting tired because we know there’s going to be one coming, but he’ll just get those, ‘I’m out of position, so maybe I’ll move my arm a little bit or I’m going to slap down because I didn’t work earlier”. Those are the things that get him in trouble and put him on the bench. It’s rare that you see him go up to block a shot and get called for a foul. If he’s going to get one, that’s the one I want him to get. He’s still got a lot of work in that area, but I love that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win and he’s all-in.”

What else did we learn Wednesday night in Iona’s last home non-conference game of the season?:

1) Deyshonee Much definitely helps

It always helps to have someone with Much’s range on the offensive end, which he showed with a couple of long threes. But Iona also needs his size on the other end. The Gaels have a lot of guards in Rickey McGill, Sam Cassell Jr., Jon Severe (who had 21 points Wednesday), and Schadrac Casimir, but while Much isn’t exactly a bruiser inside, he is 6’5” and that length gave NJIT problems, as Much finished with six steals and six rebounds.

Much went 24 minutes Wednesday, which is a good sign going forward. He admitted he probably came back a bit too soon a couple weeks ago against Niagara.

“It’s hard to watch from sidelines after you went through the preseason and all that hard work,” Much said. “But yeah, I think I came back a little early.”

Said Cluess: “We’re still learning a lot about our team. We have a lot of new pieces out there. Deyshonee Much coming back and us getting a win was big because the last time we tried to put him in the equation was Niagara and we really fell on our face because he had missed a couple of games. Him coming back with a strong defensive effort was huge, too.”

2) NJIT could still be an Atlantic Sun factor

Florida Gulf Coast (remember them?) has creeped into the Top 100 in KenPom (nearly beating Michigan State) and has to be the Atlantic Sun favorite. Jacksonville also has an array of offensive weapons and a solid record (7-4). But NJIT has Damon Lynn and some other veterans Tim Coleman and Rob Ukawauba, and Osa Izevbuwa has been around for three years. Although Abdul Lewis was a bit overmatched against Washington (and played only 14 minutes), he entered as NJIT’s leading rebounder, and gives them at least some presence in the paint. The Highlanders (5-7) managed 16 offensive rebounds (although it was just 34.0%), and things could have been different with a better shooting night (11-40 from three, 38.0% overall).

“We’ve been on a little bit of a road trip, we’ve played eight of our last 11 on the road,” Kennedy said. “I’m dying to get back in the gym to practice. Without having a lot of time in between games, it’s all game preparation. We have a different team, we have a bunch of seniors and then no experience after that. I’m trying to blend them together.”

3) Damon Lynn’s last tour

Lynn scored five points in the first two minutes and then found himself swarmed by defenders as he always seems to be the rest of the night. He still managed to launch 17 three-pointers and make seven (a couple of them really late) and finished with 28 points.

Lynn gets knocked for taking a lot of shots, and he leads Division I in three-pointers attempted this season (148). But, as I mentioned, he is constantly overplayed by opponents, and has almost double the amount of assists (50, six Wednesday) as his next teammate this season.

“I feel like I’m used to it by now,” Lynn said. “When that happens, I just try to get my teammates involved and not get frustrated. It’s been a fun journey from being an independent to being in a conference. Now we have that to look forward to.”

His numbers are and will be remarkable when he finishes this season, in volume and in amounts. He should pass 2,000 career points (he’s at 1,990, tops actively in Division I) Saturday at Temple. He has 401 career three-pointers, with an outside shot to catch Travis Bader of Oakland’s seemingly untouchable record set three years ago (504). Probably more realistic is J.J. Reddick’s 458, second on the Division I list.

And as he said, the dream ending would be in the NCAA Tournament.

Game 24: NJIT at Iona – Should be lots of three-pointers flying in this one. #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on