It was a valiant battle for the No. 15 seed against Alabama, but the Iona Gaels are packing their bags earlier than expected.
Iona fell to the Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon, 68-55. Rick Pitino was unable to replicate what he had done nearly 34 years ago to the date: defeat an Alabama team holding a No. 2 seed, as he had done when Providence made a run to the Final Four that put Pitino on the map.
It was, of course, somewhere the longtime coach thought this Gaels team would be, even if said tongue-in-cheek.
Iona didn't really get a chance to celebrate its MAAC title. Ate dinner, went right on the plane, had a couple rounds of COVID-testing on arrival and went to bed at 4-5 a.m.— Eugene Rapay (@erapay5) March 14, 2021
"We'll celebrate when we get to the Final Four." -Rick Pitino
A common trend in these type of upsets is solid three-point shooting and rebounds, and the Gaels did neither. They only shot 5-23 from behind the arc on the afternoon and were outrebounded by a margin of 42-26.
Regardless, they kept it close throughout.
Alabama came out guns-a-blazing though, taking a seven-point lead early. At the 5:25 mark of the first half, the Gaels took a lead, but a 7-0 Alabama run gave them all the momentum. The Crimson Tide would ultimately lead by one at the break, 33-32. as senior guard Isaiah Ross had 15 of his 19 points in the first half.
The first ten minutes of the second half would be back-and-forth, but Alabama would stretch their lead out to double-digits late and win by 13. Herbert Jones scored 20 for the Tide, as they await the winner of UConn and Maryland on Monday.
In the end, the Gaels did hold the Tide well under their season average of 79.6 points per game, forcing 14 turnovers and keeping an electric offense — outside of Jones — relatively quiet. Senior guard Asante Gist also had 16 points.
Iona heads back to New Rochelle with yet another NCAA Tournament appearance, but must wait and see if Pitino leaves for a bigger job.