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MAAC Championship: Iona repeats in OT thriller

Gaels dancing for fourth time in seven years under Tim Cluess

NCAA Basketball: MAAC Conference Tournament-Final-Iona  vs Manhattan Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

A driving, hanging EJ Crawford layup in OT gave Iona a two-point lead with 28 seconds remaining, and from there Jordan Washington hit two free throws to ice the game for the repeat MAAC champions. Marquis Wright hit a half court shot at the buzzer to make the final score 87-86.

The prior 44 minutes of play saw a back-and-forth affair in which both teams went on multiple long runs to seemingly take command of the game, only to see the lead just as quickly evaporate.

Despite Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos’ assertions, Nico Clareth did indeed dress and warm up with his teammates, and the hero of the Saints’ semifinal upset looked ready to go. Siena jumped out to a 23-15 lead (thanks to some surprising early zone looks that caught Iona off guard) before a 10-1 Iona run gave the Gaels a 25-24 the lead.

Iona suffered a first half scare when sophomore point guard Rickey McGill ran to the locker room after suffering what appeared to be a gruesome finger injury. After a quick tape job, McGill returned to the bench. Siena answered what turned out to be a 17-1 Iona run with 13-3 run themselves, taking a 37-35 lead into the half.

Iona came out of the half on fire, hitting five of its first seven field goal attempts, and taking what looked like a fairly commanding 57-48 lead into the under 12 timeout. However, a pair of Brett Bisping threes started an 11-0 Siena run that culminated with Wright hitting a filthy step back three to give the Saints a 59-57 lead with under nine minutes to play. Things started to look even more grim for the Gaels when Washington and Taylor Bessick, Iona’s two big men, both picked up their fourth fouls with eight minutes to play.

The Gaels however, were far from finished.

McGill went on a personal mini-run and a Deyshonee Much breakaway dunk with 4:38 remaining gave Iona a 67-62 lead. The end of regulation featured Much and Wright trading huge threes, with Much giving Iona a 71-68 lead with 2:50 remaining, but Wright tying it back up with a matching three.

Regulation ended with Much and Bisping canning high-pressure free throws. Bisping’s two free throws after being fouled on an offensive rebound tied the game at 73 with 13 seconds left, and an errant isolation three-point attempt by McGill ended regulation.

Overtime featured incredibly physical play that the referees let the two teams play through, and a Wright drive with 40 seconds remaining tied the game for the Saints before Crawford’s eventual game winner. A Clareth missed three following Crawford’s layup was the last chance for Siena, as Washington followed with two free throws to seal the title for the Gaels.

This was Iona’s fourth MAAC tournament title in seven years under Tim Cluess. Iona scored on all seven of their possessions in OT, and the Gaels were 18-for-21 from the free throw line, while the Saints finished 19-for-30.

Up Next: The NCAA Tournament for Iona! ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has Iona as No. 15 seed in Indianapolis, taking on No. 2 seed Kentucky. As for Siena, perhaps another invitation to the CBI/CIT/Vegas 16 is in the cards.