The Iona Gaels could not manage to keep up with a potent Iowa State Cyclones offense, leading to an early NCAA Tournament exit for Tim Cluess' squad. A trendy upset pick due to their ability to push the tempo, the Gaels showed some flashes of promise and put up a fight in Denver. But, at the end of the day it was Iowa State who grabbed victory by pushing the pace.
It appeared as though Iowa State would run away with the game in the first half. Despite starting the game with five quick points, the Gaels were quickly victimized by a 24-6 Cyclones run. That opened up a 13 point lead for Iowa State. The Cyclones would not trail for the remainder of the game. However, Iona was able to claw back within striking distance led by the hot hand of star player A.J. English. The Gaels managed to get within single digits and keep the deficit within reach for a good portion of the first half. But an Iowa State three from Monte Morris, who finished the day 20 points and 8 assists, allowed the Cyclones to take a 12 point lead into the locker room at the half.
At the outset of the second half, the Iowa State lead hovered around 10 points. The Gaels were able to have some success pushing the ball on the fast break and getting into the lane for layups. However, the Cyclones adopted the same strategy and were able to execute it better, dicing up the Iona defense for open shots and easy baskets. After trading baskets for a few minutes, the Cyclones ripped off an 8-0 run including four points from Georges Niang, who would finish with 28 points on the day. That pushed the Iowa State lead to 18 and it, again, appeared as if Iona simply could not keep up with the Cyclones.
An Iowa State scoring drought allowed the Gaels to close the gap late in the second half. The Cyclones would go over four minutes without a made field goal. Jordan Washington made his presence felt for the Gaels during this stretch and finished the day with a double-double: 26 points and 12 rebounds. A three pointer from A.J. English cut the deficit to just nine with 4:51 to play. After the two teams traded baskets, a pair of English free throws brought the Gaels to within seven with 2:50 to go.
But, as the second half came to a close and a potential upset began to creep into spectator's minds, a slew of Iona errors allowed the Cyclones to close out the game for good. After a miss from Niang, the Gaels had a chance to cut into the lead even further. However, English was called for a travel and gave the ball back to Iowa State. While Iowa State was not able to capitalize on that turnover specifically, it signaled an end to Iona's momentum. English was then called for a technical foul going into a timeout with just two minutes to play. English appeared to say something to either Iowa State's bench or a referee as he was walking off the court. The Cyclones hit one of the ensuing free throws and later pushed their lead back to ten on two other free throws. Another English turnover resulted in a breakaway layup for Monte Morris which was compounded with a flagrant foul on Deyshonee Much. The possession ended in six points for the Cyclones and the Gaels were finished. When the final horn sounded the final was Iowa State 94-Iona 81.
The loss ends Iona's season. The Gaels came into the year with sky high expectations. Many believed they would dominate the MAAC and establish themselves as one of the premier mid-major programs. However, a slow start to non-conference play and the emergence of Monmouth altered Iona's plans. The Gaels came into form late in the conference season and used that momentum to win the MAAC's automatic bid to the tournament. With the loss today, the Gaels end with a 22-11 record on the year.
The loss also represents the end to A.J. English's collegiate career. English led the Gaels in scoring against Iowa State with 28 points and added in seven rebounds and six assists. It remains to be seen what English's professional prospects may be.
Iowa State avoided a second straight first round upset with the win today and advances to face the winner of Purdue and Arkansas-Little Rock in the tournament's second round.