The final week of MAAC play opened with a clash of two of the leagues top teams jockeying for position. The Iona Gaels traveled to Albany where the faced the Siena Saints on Monday evening. The showdown took place in the Times Union Center, where the MAAC Tournament will be held in just over a week from now. Both teams have already clinched byes in the first round of the tournament.
Siena (19-9, 12-5 MAAC) entered the game having won eight of their last ten games including three straight. The Gaels (16-10, 13-4 MAAC) have also been hot; winning seven of their last ten entering tonight including a decisive road victory over the first place Monmouth Hawks last week. MAAC Tournament seeding was on the line tonight as only one game separated Iona and Siena in the standings entering tonight.
For the second game in a row the Gales burst out of the gate on fire. The Gaels jumped out to an early 14-4 lead on a Isaiah Williams layup just before the first media time out. Iona would extend their lead to 27-10 by the second media time out on a AJ English three-pointer. English was lights out scoring a team high 22 points in the first half. Siena forward Javion Ogunyemi would do his best to keep the Saints in it, notching 12 first half points on 3/7 shooting. A Brett Bisping jumper just before the U8 media timeout would pull the Saints to ten points (30-20) but this is the closest they would get in the first half.
The Gaels would finish the half with a 57-36 lead thanks to 10-of-13 shooting from behind the arc. The Gaels also recorded an unworldly 58% field goal percentage in the half on 21-36 shooting. The halftime deficit would have been worse had it not been for a successful buzzer beating three-point heave from Siena's Kenny Wormley.
The Saints; however, would show some traces of life coming out of the locker room with an early 11-0 run capped by a Nico Clareth layup that pulled them to within 12 (61-49). After trading buckets, a Ryan Oliver three-pointer would pull the Saints to within single digits for the first time since early in the first half. The Gaels would produce a mini-run of their own extending the lead to 72-56 on a pair of English free-throws. The Saints who refused to say 'die' fought back yet again with a 17-0 run over seven minutes to take the lead 73-72. This would prove to be the first and last time the Saints would lead in this one. The Gaels would finally come to life and ended the game on a 15-8 run sparked by a Deyshonee Much three-point-play with 2:43 remaining.
English lead all scorers with 32 points on 10-for-20 shooting. Much contributed 23 on 8-for-12 shooting for a Gaels team that shot 47.7% on the evening. Ogunyemi and Lavon Long lead the Saints with 18 points each. Junior Brett Bisping also stuffed the stat sheet for the Saints dropping 17 points and pulling down 18 boards.
The Gaels move to 14-4 in the MAAC and are back in action on Friday at 7:00pm against archival Manhattan College on ESPNU as part of ESPN's 'Rivalry Week'. The Saints, who fell to 12-6 in the MAAC will play their next game against Fairfield at Webster Bank Arena on Wednesday at 7:00pm.