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Iona rides late run to upend Cinderella Marist, claims MAAC Tournament Championship

The top-seeded Gaels won their 14th conference title and sixth in the last eight years

Rick Pitino
Rick Pitino has led Iona to the NCAA Tournament in two of his three years coaching the Gaels.
Courtesy of Geraldo Rodriguez

The score was 46-46, the top-seeded Iona Gaels were on the ropes, while 11th seeded Marist had all of the momentum. In a flash, everything changed. Red Foxes’ freshman guard Isaiah Brickner went up for a dunk that would’ve given Marist their first lead of the game, but MAAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Berrick JeanLouis met him there. The result was one of the most lasting memories of the 2022-23 MAAC Men’s Basketball season.

From that point forward, Iona outscored Marist 30-9 to win the 2023 MAAC Tournament with a 76-55 win on Saturday night in Atlantic City.

It took a miracle for Marist to get there in the first place. The Red Foxes finished in last place in the regular season; so they didn’t even need to pack their white home jerseys. On Tuesday night, they defeated Manhattan after fending off a late comeback. They then upset Quinnipiac, just a few days after losing to them by 12 at home.

While all that was happening, 10th-seeded Saint Peter’s rode their defense and sophomore guard Jaylen Murray to upsets over Fairfield and Rider to creating a 10-vs.-11 semifinal.

Marist stormed ahead of Saint Peter’s in the opening 20 minutes and led by 21 at halftime. Although the Peacocks closed it to three in the final minutes, the Red Foxes held on for the win to set up a date with top-seed Iona in the final. The Gaels defeated Marist by 27 and by 19 in their two regular season meetings.

Early in the game, Iona’s press was extremely bothersome to Marist, who had 18 turnovers and several other near turnovers. After Iona jumped out to a 10-2 lead, Marist started to get comfortable and forced some long Iona scoring droughts.

When Daniss Jenkins picked up his second foul with five minutes left in the first half, it seemed like a golden opportunity for the Red Foxes to make a run. Patrick Gardner scored the last seven points for Marist of the half, but Iona held a nine-point lead going into the break.

The tide had turned. Instead of it feeling as though Marist was lucky keeping the game as close as it was, it felt as though Iona was lucky the game wasn’t tied as multiple Marist shots found every part of the rim except their way through it.

Those shots started to fall in the second half, and Marist began chipping into that Iona lead. When Kam Farris tied the game at 46 with a triple from the right wing, the Marist faithful erupted. The beauty and madness of March could be felt throughout the building.

However, it was a different story from there. JeanLouis’ block completely turned the momentum of the game.

“I knew the game was on the line” JeanLouis said. “We had to make big defensive plays, and the only thing going through my head was, ‘win, win, win and get stops.’”

From there, Jenkins took over the game. He scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half and 15 after JeanLouis’ block.

Daniss Jenkins
Daniss Jenkins scored 27 points in the championship game, including 22 in the second half.
Courtesy of Geraldo Rodriguez

“If we can get a stop, there’s no stopping us,” the All-MAAC Second Team honoree said.

The Gaels got those stops and limited Marist to just nine points in the last 9:41.

While the Red Foxes came up short of a championship, they showed character to get all the way to the championship game.

“There was a lot of opportunities for us to quit this year, but we never did,” Marist head coach John Dunne said.

Patrick Gardner only played one year at Marist can capped off his strong season with 23 points to earn All-Tournament honors.

Iona is currently projected to be a 13 seed, and Rick Pitino thinks they can be dangerous.

“We’ll be prepared, whoever we play,” the Hall of Famer said, “We know what it’s all about. These guys are up for the task.”