Photo courtesy of Geraldo Rodriguez/Iona College Athletics
By David Cordova
The last week of the regular season is here and two of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s elite were paired together to do battle. Monmouth, the first-place team, with a 25-5 record overall and 17-2 in conference play, met up against Iona, the reigning MAAC champions, who came into the game 19-11 overall and 12-7 in conference play. The all-time series was 8-3, in favor of the Gaels, but last year was when this series started to be seen as a rivalry game, as the competition between both programs intensified.
In the 2016 MAAC championship game, Iona would win, 79-76, over Monmouth, and would go on to make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, while the Hawks, although they would win 28 games that season, would have to settle for the NIT.
This season though, the Hawks were on top from start to finish as they clinched the MAAC regular-season title on February 16th against Niagara. In the first game against the Gaels on January 6th in West Long Branch, NJ, they would play a dominant game, as they won, 92-74. This time around, in front of a sold-out crowd in New Rochelle, the game would be much closer, but only one team would walk out the victor.
Monmouth 79, Iona 73
In the beginning of the game, both teams played very erratic, missing basic shots in the first couple of minutes, before Iona’s Deyshonne Much, would make a jumper with 16:36 to go to bring the Gaels up, 2-0. Then with the offensive prowess of Jordan Washington and the shooting of E.J. Crawford, they continued to overpower the Hawks, as they would go on to a 12-5 lead with 12:24 to go.
Monmouth would then pick up their play behind a three-pointer by Collin Stewart and a layup by Austin Tilghman to get to within 13-12, with 11:06 to go, and then Diego Quinn would make a layup with 9:54 to go, to take the lead, 14-13. As the game went on, Iona would then falter, as Monmouth would draw fouls and then capitalize on it by making most of their free throws, which would put them ahead by four, 23-19, with 6:13 to go.
But the Gaels would not stay down for long, as they would take a two-point lead, 29-27, on a three-pointer by Much, with 3:01 left to go. But Monmouth would continue to make their free throws and take a 35-32 lead into halftime after a three-pointer by Tilghman. The Hawks would shoot 82% from the line, while the Gaels would shoot 63%. But both teams shot dismally in the first half, with Monmouth shooting 37.9% and Iona shooting 33%.
The Hawks would come out strong in the early stages of the second half, as they would attack offensively and raise their lead up to seven, 39-32, with 18:43 to go, behind the play of Je’lon Hornbeak and Chris Brady. But then Iona would then come back behind a layup by Taylor Bessick and Rickey McGill to bring the Gaels within two, 39-37, with 16:31 to go.
Once again, Much would be a factor for the Gaels as he would hit a three-pointer and a layup to bring them to within one, 47-46, with 12:42 to go. However, the Hawks would continue to exploit their counterparts in the best that they knew how, at the free-throw line, as they would go up seven, 55-48, with 10:01 to go.
Iona would then make a comeback, which would then lead to Sam Cassell Jr. tying the score at 61-61, with 5:56 to go. But then a couple of seconds later, a three-pointer and a layup by Josh James on the other end with bring Monmouth up five, 66-61, with 5:22 to go.
The Gaels would unravel as the Hawks would make consecutive baskets by Robinson, James and Hornbeak to bring their lead up to seven, 73-66, with 2:35 to go. Jordan Washington would make a layup with 1:12 to go to bring the Gaels to within six, 75-69 and then Severe would then make a layup with 50.3 seconds to go to cut the deficit to four, 75-71. Tilghman would then hit two free throws for Monmouth to bring them up six, 77-71, with 44 seconds left in the game.
McGill would make a layup with 36 seconds left to bring the Gaels to within four, 77-73. But two free throws from Hornbeak would put the game away, as Monmouth would win the second meeting, resulting in a season sweep.
Hornbeak would lead Monmouth with 25 points and Robinson would add 16 points and five assists. For Iona, Much led with 18 points and Washington added 16 points in the loss.