Iona tries to find success through injuries, lack of players

Iona huddles up during a timeout in its season opener against Albany on Nov. 9.

Ryan McFadden, Sports Editor

The start to the Iona College men’s basketball team season opener against the University of Albany on Nov. 9 wasn’t pretty.

Iona’s chemistry clearly wasn’t there–the Gaels couldn’t find their offensive rhythm, as it took almost 15 minutes to reach double digits on the scoreboard. There was a point in the game where Iona was trailing in double figures, and fans were silent in frustration.

It wasn’t until the final six minutes of the first half where things started to go in Iona’s favor. The Gaels were scoring baskets in transition, and solid three point shooting by freshman forward Andrija Ristanovic and junior guard Ben Perez cut Albany’s double- digit lead to four points at the half.

Iona carried that momentum and increased its defensive intensity in the second half to sneak away with a 72-68 victory.

The Gaels’ victory showed their ability to overcome adversity and be a strong defensive team. However, it’s obvious that it’s going to take a while before we see the true potential of this team.

“We have a lot of growing to do on both ends of the court,” Iona Head Coach Tim Cluess said.

This year’s Iona team features nine new players and only two returners. Senior guard Rickey McGill, who was named Preseason First Team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, is the only player on the roster that’s been a part of Iona’s three straight MAAC titles.

In addition to having a roster filled with new faces, the Gaels haven’t fully learned how to play with each other, as the Iona team has barely had a practice with the entire roster because of injuries.

“We only had four practices with 10 scholarship players since last week,” Cluess said. “Andrija Ristanovic has only been back for four days, and Jahnathan Maxwell has been back for eight days after being out for four months with a bad foot.”

Iona has been forced to use alternative methods during practices.

“We have a lot of pieces just learning how to play together,” Cluess said. “In practice, we had to use walk-ons and even coaches have to get out there a little bit.”

Iona hasn’t been fortunate enough to have competitive scrimmages or figure out what works and what doesn’t.

“It’s never been the best five against the other five, because it wouldn’t be fair,” Cluess said. “The guys didn’t spend a long time in the preseason playing together.”

Cluess has been in a similar position before, but he feels having small numbers allows players to work harder and expand their game to new heights.

“I’ve been in situations where I had a low number of players,” Cluess said. “We just try to do the best we can, and we ask more out of [them] – like be in the gym longer and work a little harder. I think their roles grow because of the lack of numbers.”

“We may have E.J. [Crawford] playing at the wing one possession and inside the post the other,” Cluess continued. “If we had 13 to 14 players, he may not have diversity in his game. Guys have to fill in different spots, and I think this will make them better basketball players.”

Iona’s lack of numbers and injuries hasn’t kept the team from looking at the bigger picture, which is preparing to win the conference title and going to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s about what we do in March,” Cluess said. “We have high expectations for our program every single year, and there hasn’t been a single [year] I have been coaching here [that] I didn’t have the expectations of winning.”