By Kevin Sweeney
AJ English had 32 points, including 2 dagger 3’s in the final minutes, to help Iona stave off the hard-charging Siena Saints 87-81. The win gives the Gaels full control of 2nd place in the MAAC conference.
The Gaels came out of the gates scorching hot from downtown. Iona absolutely destroyed the Saints in all aspects of the game for the first 20 minutes. The Gaels knocked down 10-13 3’s in the half. While Iona came out firing, Siena struggled mightily, shooting just 1-10 from 3. When the dust settled, the Gaels led the Saints 57-36, and a blowout seemed to be looming.
“I don’t think us as players, we weren’t ready to go,” Siena senior forward Brett Bisping stated. “That’s on us as players.”
The game changed dramatically in the second half, as it was the Saints who started hot. Siena fed off the energy from a raucous home crowd and tenacious defense from freshman Nico Clareth, who locked down English for long stretches in the second half. The game appeared to be getting away from the Saints as the Gaels led 72-56 with 11:01 to go. Then, Siena took all the momentum. They went on an extended 17-0 run that lasted nearly 7 and a half minutes. The Saints were able to turn the game around because they went back to doing what they do best. They pounded the ball inside, with the forward trio of Lavon Long, Brett Bisping, and Javion Ogunyemi dominating the game in the second half. That group combined for 53 points and 30 rebounds. Bisping matched a career high with 18 boards.
In the final 4 minutes, Iona, and English, just wouldn’t be denied. Just 4 seconds after a Bisping tip-in gave Siena their first lead of the ball-game, English knocked down a deep triple to hand the lead back to Iona. Another English 3 with 1:36 to go sealed the deal for the Gaels.
The Gaels clinched a top 2 seed with the win, moving to 14-4 in MAAC play. Siena falls to 12-6 in MAAC play, but can clinch the 3rd seed with a win over Fairfield on Wednesday night.