By Kevin Sweeney
In perhaps the most talked-about regular season game in MAAC history, Iona controlled the 1st half en route to an 83-67 win over Monmouth on Friday night. A.J English had 31 points to lead the Gaels.
Iona was quickly able to silence a standing-room only crowd at Monmouth’s MAC with a 19-0 run that spanned nearly 7 minutes in the early stages of the first half. Monmouth struggled to do anything on offense in that stretch, and they turned the ball over 6 times during that period, leading to easy buckets in transition for the Gaels.
Monmouth’s offense seemed out of sync for most of the night in their first game without senior forward Deon Jones, who is out for the foreseeable future with a hand injury. Iona went to a 3-2 matchup zone that didn’t allow Justin Robinson to create using dribble penetration. Without Jones, a zone-breaker because of his skill in the high post, the Hawks were forced into contested 3’s with the shot clock winding down. Jones’s replacement, junior wing Collin Stewart was ineffective, scoring just 2 points on 0-7 shooting.
Iona was able to exploit one of Monmouth’s biggest weaknesses: rebounding. In the first half, the Gaels grabbed 11 offensive rebounds and put up 17 2nd chance points. Without Jones, who is also Monmouth’s leading rebounder, Iona was able to impose its will on the glass. Monmouth caught up on the glass in the second half when Iona big men Aaron Rountree and Jordan Washington left the game with foul trouble.
A.J. English made numerous clutch shots for the Gaels in the second half. Monmouth made numerous pushes in the second half, but every time the crowd got back into it, it seemed that English knocked down a 3. Monmouth cut the lead to eleven on consecutive possessions with around 5 minutes remaining, but English answered with a pair of huge 3’s that put the game away.
English’s game-high 31 led the Gaels. Rountree added 13 for Iona. Monmouth was led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who scored 21 points. Austin Tilghman put up 15 points off the bench for the Hawks.
Iona has another huge game on Monday when they travel to Albany to take on 3rd place Siena. Monmouth will look to get back on track on Sunday at Saint Peters.