Schadrac Casimir made his first start in more than 13 months Sunday with Jon Severe still ailing from a couple of different minor injuries. But he lasted only 2:47 as with Canisius out to a 10-2 start, Iona coach Tim Cluess called time out and immediately went to Severe.
“The group that started had a couple of little breakdowns right at the get-go, and he was one of the guys,” Cluess said. “He really responded well, he didn’t sulk about it, and came back ready to play.”
It wasn’t a huge surprise, although Casimir was the 2014-15 MAAC Rookie of the Year, after missing almost all of last year and having to undergo three surgeries (because of two hip labrums), the stats indicate he hasn’t been the same since. In five MAAC games before Sunday’s, Casimir had a total of 21 points, with no more than 7 in any of them. Even worse, Iona – which has never has anywhere close to a losing conference record under Cluess (seventh season) – came in at 2-3, two games behind their red-hot opponent.
But a minute later and Iona still down 13-5, Casimir was back in for Sam Cassell Jr. after he committed a foul. With 14:06 to go in the first half, Casimir connected on a three-pointer to cut the Canisius lead to 19-12. At the 12:11 mark, he hit another, and just 25 seconds after that on the break, Casimir had no hesitation in drilling a third, finishing it with a fistpump and a yell, rare emotion from him.
“I got off to a hot start by hitting the first two and once I hit the third one, my confidence just went through the roof,” Casimir said. “I just tried to keep being aggressive and get to the open spots.”
Soon after, his teammates were rolling, too, and (with some help from Canisius missing 24 of its final 28 three-point attempts) Iona had a much-needed easy home victory, breaking the Golden Griffins’ seven-game win streak with an emphatic 98-75 win at the Hynes Center.
Casimir finished with 27 points on 7-9 three-point shooting, but he also showed other facets of his game that have been missing: at one point going out the Hynes Center doors chasing after a loose ball and going straight at defenders to draw contact in the paint (he is alo a 90% free throw shooter). He finished with 34 minutes, most since the 2015 NIT loss to Rhode Island.
Sunday’s performance puts Casimir back to 40.5% from behind the arc for the season (he shot 42.3%, hitting 94 threes in 2014-15) and 10-19 in MAAC play.
“I’m getting better day by day,” Casimir said. “It’s not even about me shooting. If my shot isn’t falling, I still have to play defense hard and do all the other things.”
One game does not a comeback make, but if Casimir is indeed somewhere his freshman year form, wrestling the MAAC title from Iona (10-7, 3-3) may not be as easy as we might have thought a couple days ago.
“Schadrac came in and gave us the lift we were looking for, and the player we were hoping to see again,” Cluess said. “We said before the game for us to be competitive in the MAAC, one of our guards has to have a game like that. You can’t go out there with your guards all the time and go 0-for-4. We just need one to be good every night because Wash (Jordan Washington) has been good every night, and we’ll piecemeal around it. Schadrac has had some really good practices, but it hasn’t really translated into a game until today.”
What else did we learn from New Rochelle?:
- No depth needed on this night
Deyshonee Much, who looked like he was leaving the program, warmed up but never appeared, marking the fourth straight DNP for the junior who led the MAAC in eFG% (66.3%) last season. Iona doesn’t play again until Saturday at Quinnipiac, so he does have some time to maybe get himself back on the floor.
Meanwhile, Jon Severe who rolled both ankles against Fairfield last Monday and suffered a hip pointer against Monmouth Friday, played only 10 minutes, although Cluess said he was available in the second half if he was needed. With E.J. Crawford in foul trouble, players like Jan Svandrlik, Casimir, Rickey McGill, and Taylor Bessick stepped up. McGill – whom Cluess said wasn’t even truly a point guard – finished with 14 points and 14 assists, more than the entire team had in its losses Monday (9) and Friday (11). Iona’s 22 assists were a season-high.
— Iona Athletics (@ICGaels) January 8, 2017
“It was a long two days (after the Monmouth loss), let’s put it that way,” Cluess said. “I think our guys played with a lot more intensity, and we made shots, which changed the game.”
2) Shooting is a lot for both these teams
Despite its win streak, Canisius has not played great defense (down to 304th after Iona hung 1.34 ppp on them, and now dead last in MAAC games at 1.125 ppp). And when the Golden Griffins (10-6, 3-2) went cold, they fell victim to a classic Iona Hynes Center run, first 17-0 and then all the way to 46-16, which was pretty much lights out.
But even so, if they were anywhere near their 40% three-point average, this could have been a different game. Unfortunately, with a team that depends on its shooting so much, Canisius is going to have games like this, and it’s not easy to win at Iona anyway, even if it has looked vulnerable of late.
“I think we scored some points early, but I still didn’t like the vibe from the opening tip,” Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “I thought the vibe was terrible. We scored some baskets so it hid it a little bit. But the coaching staff was wondering what was wrong and eventually it showed.”
3) The MAAC might be more open than we thought
This isn’t really shocking news, but although Iona rolled in this game, you can see why Canisius is dangerous with the number of shooters (eight players tried at least one shot from behind the arc) they have and the variability that will bring in the next couple of months. But with Monmouth still trying to figure itself out, and the teams directly behind them (Siena and Iona) also having their problems, it has opened the door for a host of teams: Canisius, Fairfield, Rider, maybe Saint Peter’s.
It should make the rest of the regular season a little more interesting, with games like Canisius at Fairfield Tuesday playing a big role in who might be at the top come March.
“We have to learn to overcome little bumps in the road, whether it’s your flight gets cancelled, you don’t get sleep, whatever. (Canisius’ flight from Buffalo was cancelled due to snow, so they bused to the area instead),” Witherspoon said. “Whether we can do that with this team, I don’t know. We’ll find out going forward.”