By Kevin Sweeney
Even though they lost, Siena fans have one consolation prize: they will most likely never have to face AJ English again.
English, who has been perhaps the Saints’s biggest nemesis over the past 4 years, wrote the final chapter in his Siena-killing career with a huge 27 point performance to lead Iona into the MAAC Championship game with a 81-70 win on Saturday night. After his 30 foot 3-pointer downed the Saints in the MAAC Tournament last year and his dagger 3’s in this year’s regular season match-up broke Siena’s hearts, Saints fans were well-aware of English’s ability to take over games. Tonight, English put together one more performance for the ages to put the Saints away in the second half.
The Saints dug themselves a 14 point halftime deficit, conceding a 19-3 run to end the half. However, in the second half, Siena continued to chip away at the deficit, feeding off the pro-Siena crowd and some huge shots from fearless freshman Nico Clareth to cut the Iona lead to 5. English wouldn’t go away though, knocking down big shot after big shot to keep Siena at bay. 21 of English’s 27 points came in the second half.
Siena will kick themselves for struggling from the free throw line. They shot just 11-21 from the foul line, failing to capitalize on key chances to get back into the game. Center Javion Ogunyemi struggled mightily, making just 3 out of 11 from the stripe.
It wasn’t just English who got it done for the Gaels. Iona also got a huge night from forward Isaiah Williams. Williams scored 23 points and snatched 11 rebounds. He scored his 1,000th career point in the first half. Siena was led by Clareth, who scored 18 and added 4 steals on the defensive end.
The win sets up the Gaels for a mammoth showdown with top-seeded Monmouth, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Siena likely isn’t done, as they most likely will participate in a postseason tournament like the CBI or CIT.
Of Note: Ibn Muhammad left the game early in the second half and didn’t return. Tim Cluess said that Muhammad had a severe back spasm and would be a game-time decision for tommorow night’s contest.