Iona captures historic third straight MAAC Championship

Rickey McGill and Schadrac Casimir celebrate after winning Iona’s third straight MAAC Title.

Ryan McFadden, Sports Editor

ALBANY- Iona graduate transfer Zach Lewis drove past a Fairfield defender, glanced up and tossed the ball to graduate TK Edogi, who delivered an empathic slam that gave the Gaels a 17-point lead in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship on Monday.

It was at this moment when a special feeling surrounded the Times Union Center. A feeling that history was about to be made.

Even when Fairfield attempted to make a comeback late in the game, Iona had an answer on both ends of the court. From the Gaels high percentage shooting to junior Roland Griffin’s ferocious blocks, Iona was able to stay strong.

As the final seconds ticked away on the Gaels 83-71 victory over the Stags, each player was filled with tears and excitement as the work they put in throughout the season finally paid off.

“They’ve accomplished something that’s ridiculously special,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said. “It only happened two other times in this league and Iona is now a part of that history.”

Iona, who now has a conference best 11 championship wins, joined La Salle and Siena as the only teams in the MAAC to win third straight titles.

“I can’t even explain it,” junior guard Schadrac Casimir said. “It’s an incredible feat and I’m happy we were able to get it done.”

There were questions before and during the season on whether Iona, a team consisting of seven new players, would be able to stay at the top of the conference. Despite dealing with inconsistent play and multiple lineup changes, Iona was able to find a way.

“When a lot of people gave up on them, they never gave up on themselves,” Cluess said. “To watch them hug, cry and smile is tremendous because you know how much it means to them.”

Griffin intensified his energy level and dominated offensively and defensively, registering 29 points, five rebounds and four blocks.

“[Griffin] played with such great energy,” Cluess said. “He played a full 40 minutes and was tremendous.”

Junior point guard Rickey McGill had 10 points, eight rebounds and a pair of steals. Lewis, who started in all three MAAC Tournament games, scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

“It’s amazing,” Lewis, the MAAC Tournament MVP, said. “We work so hard during the preseason and during the season. This is the best I’ve ever felt.”

Casimir only scored five points, but his performance in the semifinals against St. Peter’s, where he scored 24 points, helped Iona reach the championship.

“I just took what the defense gave me,” Casimir said. “I felt like I had to be a leader and set the tone for the new guys.”

Casimir, who has been in this position before, enjoyed watching his teammates–especially the new players–celebrate.

“As excited I was, the look on the new guys’ faces was the best feeling,” Casimir said. “I remember my first championship and it’s nothing like it.”

With the Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament around the corner, Cluess has one advice to give his team: “Enjoy the ride.”

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