Iona uses strong second half to beat Albany in season opener

Ryan McFadden, Sports Editor

The Iona College men’s basketball team overcame first-half struggles to beat Albany 72-68  in the season opener on Friday evening.

“We have a lot of growing to do on both ends of the court,” Iona Head Coach Tim Cluess said. “But, they fought back from a large deficit early on and they were tough enough to gut it out.”

Iona entered the game with a handful of new players. It was noticeable the chemistry wasn’t there at the start of the game, as the Gaels were struggling to find consistency in their offense.

The Great Danes took advantage of Iona’s offensive struggles and jumped out to a 20-8 lead in the first half.

Iona began to make a run towards the end of the first half thanks to junior guard E.J. Crawford, who had a few baskets in transition.

Freshman forward Andrija Ristanovic nailed a pair of three pointers during the final 40 seconds of the half to cut Albany’s lead to 27-26.

Iona increased it’s defensive intensity and crashed the glass in the second half, which kept Albany from getting good looks on offense.

“I thought in the second half our guys didn’t allow second [chance] shots,” Cluess said. “Late in the game when they were crashing the boards, we were able to tip the ball out and not allow [Albany] to get easy baskets on us.”

The Gaels took its first lead of the game when junior transfer guard Ben Perez nailed a three pointer to put them up 46-44 with 11:07 left in the second half.

Both teams traded baskets until Iona senior guard Rickey McGill scored five straight points to give Iona a 58-53 advantage with less than nine minutes to go in the game.

“We knew at one point they would fold,” McGill said. “We were just trying to keep our heads and keep playing defense.”

Albany tied the game at 58, but Iona regain the lead after junior Isaiah Still attacked the rim for a layup. The Gaels were able to cling on to the lead for the rest of the game.

McGill, who was held scoreless in the first half, finished with 12 points and nine assists. Crawford tallied 14 points and five rebounds.

“[Crawford] game has changed so much now that he can drive the ball and post you up,” Cluess said. “We missed him a few times when he had a mismatch. I like the diversity takes coming around his game and a lot of that comes from the physicality and how much he worked on his body.”

Iona’s new players made a strong impression. Perez tallied 10 points off the bench, while Still registered nine points and eight rebounds. Junior forward Tajuan Agee added 10 points and six rebounds.

“It’s good to see them contribute to the team right away,” McGill said. “We lost a couple guys and it’s good that they came into the game and hit big shots for us. I feel that made the turning point.”