Iona erased a 12 point deficit to earn a 79-75 comeback win over Ohio University Saturday afternoon at the Hynes Athletic Center in New Rochelle, NY.The Gaels rebounded from a loss to Niagara last weekend to earn their first home victory of the season, avoiding their first set of back-to-back home losses since December 2009, when Kevin Willard was head coach.
Ohio controlled the game throughout the first half, and it wasn’t until junior college transfer Jan Svandrlik connected on a 3-pointer with 11:56 remaining in the second half that the Gaels claimed their first lead of the game, 57-56.
Svandrlik, who entered the game without recording a point in Iona’s last six contests, broke out, scoring career-high 19 points on 6-8 shooting. The Czech Republic native connected on five of six attempts from behind in the arc, including four in the second half.
“The other night even though he only took two shots and missed them both, there was a sense of calm about his play,” head coach Tim Cluess said of Svandrlik. “He’s just a streaky kid, that’s just the way he is. He can knock down five or six in a row or miss five or six in a row, so we were just hoping that he was going to have one of those games, and we thought if he was it was going to be on our home court. Once he makes one or two, he has more confidence shooting the ball than anyone on our team.”
Senior Jordan Washington assumed full control as a leader on the Gaels, pocketing a season high 30 points while working against Ohio’s Antonio Campbell, a 6-9 forward and reigning MAC Player of the Year.
“In practice when we were going over film, coach Grasso told me ‘Jordan, that’s the best big you’re going to play throughout your whole senior year,’” Washington said. “I told coach Grasso I’m not scared of nobody, I’m not scared of no big, I’m going to fight regardless of how strong you are or how big you are. I don’t care. I’m still going to be that better big in that paint.”
Washington and Svandrlik both attended Indian Hills Community College in Iowa.“He actually was going to come here out of high school I believe, but didn’t qualify because of the foreign transcripts and everything,” Cluess said of Svandrlik. “We had seen him two years prior and stayed in touch with him.”
With the Gaels trailing most of the game, it was Washington who stepped up as an emotional leader both on and off the court, motivating the squad to pick up their effort as the game went on.
“With two and a half minutes to go, Jordan comes up, slaps me on the back and says ‘Don’t worry coach, we got this,’” Cluess said of Washington. “He said ‘I’ll make sure I’m going to stop them, get rebounds, whatever it takes we’re winning this game.’ I thought that was huge, because even in the locker room at halftime, he was getting on other guys about the lack of emotion that he was seeing.”
In crunch time and the score knotted at 75 with 1:36 remaining, it was the Gaels’ least experienced player who stepped up to lead the team to victory.
Freshman E.J. Crawford knocked down a free throw to give the Gaels the lead, then after Iona came up with a defensive stop in the final 30 seconds, raced down the other end of the court to seal the game with a three-point play.“E.J. just has a lot of confidence in himself and is just a mismatch player,” Cluess said of the freshman. “He can do a little of everything. I think he’s going to have a terrific career as he progresses. He’s a confident kid, believes in himself, and fits the way we play almost like an Isaiah Williams-type replacement player.”
Crawford finished the game with a career-high 15 points, completing the trio of Gaels in double figures.
Sophomore Rickey McGill tallied just six points, but notched a career high with 12 assists. The breakout of McGill at the point provides the Gaels another option to run the offense through in the future, making their dynamic offense all the more threatening.
“That’s what Rickey has to be for us,” Cluess said. “He’s really athletic, he’s learning the point guard spot and made much better decisions as the game went on. The hardest thing for a scoring guard to do as a point guard is know when he should take it and when he should pass it.”
Iona is back in action next week when it hosts NJIT on Wednesday evening. The contest will mark the first-ever meeting between the local programs.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.