With season on the line, Zach Lewis became the leader Iona needed

Graduate transfer Zach Lewis scored 20 points in the MAAC Championship against Fairfield on March 4.

Ryan McFadden, Sports Editor

Iona College graduate transfer Zach Lewis was either on the court or the bench, coaching and rallying his fellow men’s basketball teammates, who were trailing St. Peter’s by 14 points in the second half of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference semifinals on March 3.

Lewis, who spent the first two years of his college basketball career at Canisius, never made it to the conference championship. He had no plans to repeat the past.

“I didn’t want to go home,” Lewis said. “We had one chance, so I had to give it everything I had.”

Lewis was foul while converting a layup, which cut Iona’s deficit to two points with less than five minutes to go in the game. Lewis’ basket gave Iona the momentum it needed to beat St. Peter’s and advance to the title game.

Lewis carried that determination into the championship against Fairfield on March 4. Lewis scored nine points in the opening five minutes of the game. He would go on to score 20 points in rout to Iona’s third straight MAAC Title and being named the Tournament’s MVP.

 Lewis had nothing but tears in his eyes, knowing his team battled adversity throughout the season just to be named MAAC Champions.

“We put in so much work during the offseason,” Lewis said.  “To do what we did as a team is an amazing feeling.”

Lewis only started in two of Iona’s last 12 games of the regular season. When the Gaels dropped four of their final six games, head coach Tim Cluess was looking for someone to step up. Lewis took his game to another during practices, which led to Cluess inserting him in the starting lineup for the MAAC Tournament.

“I didn’t think we were playing well enough late in the year,” Cluess said. “Zach was playing a different way and a different level. He started taking leadership qualities and we needed that.”

 Lewis’ leadership during the tournament reminded Cluess of former Iona guard A.J. English, who guided the Gaels to a MAAC title in 2016.

“His leadership became like A.J. English,” Cluess said. “He was involved in every play, coaching his teammates on the court and on the bench. He was not going to let our team lose.”

Lewis is now preparing to accomplish a lifelong dream of his — competing in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s a dream come true,” Lewis said. “Ever since I started playing basketball, it’s been something I dreamed of.”

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