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MAAC Championship: Iona Dances; Monmouth Waits

The Iona Gaels defeated the Monmouth Hawks in an outstanding conclusion to the MAAC Championships

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

An A.J. English steal beneath the Monmouth basket with four seconds remaing would seal a 79-76 victory and send the Iona Gaels Dancing for the first time since 2013. The Gaels, who have fallen to archival Manhattan Jaspers in each of the last two MAAC Championship games, finally got their redemption this evening knocking off the 1-seed Monmouth Hawks in Albany.

Monmouth took a 34-30 lead into the locker room after a competitive first half that saw Iona jump out to an early lead. Both Monmouth's Justin Robinson, and Iona's A.J. English (Who finished 1 and 2 in MAAC Player of the year voting respectively) got off to slow starts. English ended the half with only seven points on 1-for-7 shooting. Robinson had only two points on 1-for-4 shooting.

Out of the break Monmouth would extend the lead to as many as seven points as late as the 13:22 mark before A.J. English came alive. English led a well balanced Iona attack which saw four Gaels finish in double figures. After much back and forth English drilled a step back jumper with 1:39 remaining in the game to put the Gaels up by two. A Deysonne Much three-point play on the ensuing Iona possession would extend the lead. Monmouth didn't give up, pulling to within one point after two Chris Brady free throws with just over 20 seconds remaining. Wake Forest transfer Aaron Rountree knocked down two clutch free throws for the Gaels to push the lead back to three with 17 seconds remaining.

After a Monmouth timeout Justin Robinson looked to orchestrate one final play to extend the game. As the clock wound down he drove to the hoop and dumped the ball to Deon Jones on the block with four seconds remaining. As Jones went up for (what would be an insignificant layup) A.J. English stripped the ball and launched it to the other end of the court as time expired.

Englis finished with 19 points and five assists. Isaiah Williams added 17 points and five rebounds for the Gaels. The Hawks were lead by Je'lon Hornbeak who dropped 20 points off the bench.

The Gaels will be dancing for the first time since 2013. Monmouth will have to now sweat it out until Selection Sunday where they will hope to hear their names called as an at-large bid. The Hawks would only be the third MAAC School to ever receive an at large bid in the conference's 35 year history. The Manhattan Jaspers in 1995 and The Iona Gaels in 2012 are the only two schools to achieve this feat. The Hawks certainly have the resume after winning 13 true road games and 17 road/neutral games including victories against Notre Dame, UCLA, Georgetown, and USC. Both Jay Bilas and ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi have gone on record saying that the Hawks "should" be in the field of 68 however the Hawks will now have to sweat it out until Sunday.