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Iona Survives Siena, Home Crowd to Advance to MAAC Semifinals

Iona had to fight against the Siena players on the floor, and the home crowd in the stands, to advance to the MAAC semifinals. It helps when your senior leader A.J. English scored 32 points.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

You probably shouldn't ask Iona coach Tim Cluess how he feels about playing the MAAC Tournament on the home floor of the Siena Saints. It is likely the answer will burn your ears.

Siena gave top-seeded Iona a run for its money in the second half behind the force of a very vocal home crowd, but the Gaels were able to hang on and advance into the semifinals, 74-71.

The game did much to highlight why there is so much hope about Iona in the NCAA Tournament, and why there is also a number of lingering doubts about the Gaels.

In the first half, Iona sprinted to a 45-37 lead, pushing the tempo and seeming to find every rebound (Iona grabbed 43 percent of their offensive rebounds), while A.J. English couldn't miss.

This is the power of Iona, a team that pushes the tempo against you, and has five players who almost never come out of the game. They wear you down, forcing you to use your bench, while they never do.

But then there is the other side of Iona, a team that struggles when they need to slow down, such as in the second half against the Saints. Siena went to a matchup zone that countered the Gael speed. Iona scored just 29 points in the second half.

To be fair, Iona was facing not just the five players dressed in the gold, but a strong presence from the Saint faithful in the stands. Each time Siena made a run, the crowd would drown the Gaels in sound. It would stun Iona just long enough for Siena to reel them in, but never long enough for the Saints to get back on top.

Siena's Lavon Long had 17 points and Rob Poole added 14 for the Saints as they mounted their comeback. Ryan Olivers scored 16 off the bench, and Javion Ogunyemi pulled in six offensive boards, and nine overall.

It was just too much for Siena to counter that first half barrage by the Gaels. English finished with 32 points, the fourth time this year he has eclipsed 30 points. This is why he will likely get more long looks from NBA teams, beyond the ones who have already spent time examining the senior -- a long list that just keeps growing.

It helps when he has David Laury alongside him, scoring yet another double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Or when Isaiah Williams drops 16 points and grabs another 11 boards.

Iona remains the team to beat in the MAAC, and one that could do some damage in the NCAA Tournament if they can survive that long. Getting past the tournament hosts gives them a lot more breathing room to do it.