Gaels strike Gold for fifth straight MAAC championship, but fall short against Alabama


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The Iona men’s basketball team celebrating a 60-51 win over Fairfield in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s basketball championship game in Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey. The win gave the Gaels their fifth consecutive MAAC championship and an automatic bid to the Round of 64 game against Alabama

Giovanni Paolo Tagliafierro, Assistant Sports Editor

Iona men’s basketball capped off their 2021 Metro Atlantic Athletic Association tournament run on March 13 with a 60-51 win over Fairfield in the championship game, and extended their conference champion streak to five years in a row.  


Iona went into the half with a 12-point lead, and while Fairfield fought hard in the second half to close the gap, the Maroon and Gold kept finding ways to fight off the opposition’s rallies.  


Defense was the key to the Gaels winning effort in the tournament finale, as Iona held the Stags to a .30 shooting percentage and outrebounded them 38 to 30.  


Head coach Rick Pitino commended the effort of the team in the post-game press conference, especially how they were able to play man defense, a style that the Gael’s don’t run often because of the lack of team practices throughout the COVID-19 interrupted season. Senior guard Isaiah Ross was key to this effort, as he was able to prevent Fairfield’s Jake Wojcik from having any real scoring impact over the course of the game.  


Senior guard Asante Gist, who was named the Most Valuable Player for the MAAC Championship game, dropped in 18 points and went 6-6 from the free throw line, helping to close out the game for the Gaels.  


Nine-seed Iona’s road to the MAAC tournament championship began against eight-seed Quinnipiac.  


The game featured three Gaels in double figures, led by Ross’ 15 points, as well as an impressive all-around performance from junior guard Berrick JeanLouis. He scored seven points, grabbed 11 rebounds and knabbed 3 steals in the 72-48 rout over the Cougars in the opening round matchup.  

A 55-52 victory over number one-seed Siena followed the quarterfinal round. The game was a defensive battle on both sides, but the Gaels were ultimately able to contain Siena stars Jalen Pickett and Manny Camper to seal the victory.  


A tightly contested first half which saw both teams put up poor shooting numbers and take difficult shots was followed up by more impressive second period. Siena went up 39-30 after an alley-oop dunk that was finished off by Camper with 9:54 left on the clock, and momentum seemed to have swung heavily in favor of the Saints.  


The Gaels defense responded and locked down once again, preventing Siena from scoring for over eight minutes. A bucket at the buzzer by Siena made it a one-possession game as the Saints rally fell just short.  


The win improved the Gaels’ record to 11-0 against the Saints in the MAAC tournament, and moved them on to the eventual conference championship with their win over Fairfield.  


Unfortunately, the round of 64 would be as far as the Gaels would make it in the NCAA tournament, as they dropped Saturday’s game against Alabama 68-55.  


Iona ran stride for stride with the Southeastern Conference champions throughout most of the game, and with 9:15 to go in the second half, Gist split two defenders on his drive to the basket, converting a difficult layup that made it 47-46 Alabama.  


The Gaels contested the best three-point shooting team in the country all night long, and limited them to only five made threes, but Iona was not able to rebound the ball defensively which resulted in 13 offensive rebounds for Alabama.  


The combination of more shots, more depth and more offensive ability on the Alabama side proved to be the deciding factor in the Iona loss, as Bama pulled away after an important three-pointer by senior guard Alex Reese, and sealed the win with a reverse layup by sophomore star Jahvon Quinerly at the 1:28 mark.  


The two seniors, Ross and Gist, shined in their final game in Maroon and Gold. They had 19 and 16 points respectively, and served as the Gaels main scoring threats. 


While the season’s conclusion is disappointing to the program, the team looks forward to next season that will hopefully see the ending of the pandemic, as well as a new recruiting class and a revamped schedule.