Iona blows double-digit lead in 85-84 loss to Niagara

Ryan McFadden, Sports Editor

The Iona College men’s basketball team (16-12, 10-6 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) blew an opportunity to move up in the conference standings as the Gaels fell to Niagara 85-84 on Friday evening.

“We keep making mental mistakes and [Niagara] made the plays,” Iona College head coach Tim Cluess said. “We turned it over, missed foul shots and two-footers.”

Iona started the game off slow, trailing 10-2 and only converting 1-6 shots. The Gaels went on a 6-0 run that tied the game. Iona’s offense was clicking in the middle of the first half as the Gaels were connecting on three-point baskets, while attacking the rim. Sophomore guard EJ Crawford, who finished with 16 points, converted a put back layup as time expired in the first half to give Iona a 47-37 advantage.

Iona led by as many as 12 points during the early parts of the second half. But a shooting slump by the Gaels gave Niagara an opportunity to stage a comeback.

“There was a tough stretch where we couldn’t make a basket,” Cluess said. “That’s when [Niagara] began to get second chance shots and drives on us.”

Kahlil Dukes, Niagara’s leading scorer, tallied 17 points and made a clutch baskets late in the second half. Dukes drove to the basket and converted a layup that gave the Purple Eagles a 82-79 lead with 3:43 remaining in the game.

Junior transfer Roland Griffin tallied a team-high 17 points off the bench to go along with five rebounds. Junior guard Schadrac Casimir tallied 15 points and junior Rickey McGill added nine points.

Freshman Gavin Kensmil, who averaged less than four minutes of playing prior to the game, came into the game after graduate TK Edogi tweaked his ankle and made use of his time. Kensmil tallied nine points (4-4 FG) and five rebounds.

“I was really happy,” Cluess said. “He had a really good day at practice and played with a good motor. We thought his energy would help us today.”

Niagara’s James Towns had a game-high 20 points and seven assists in 31 minutes of play off the bench. Towns became the Purple Eagles go-to scorer after Matt Scott left the game in the first half with an apparent leg injury.

Iona shot the ball poorly from the three-point line in the second half, going 1-10. The Gaels’ free throw shooting and seven turnovers in the second half also played a big role in the loss.

Iona, who has dropped three of its last four games, remains the fourth seed in the conference standings. The Gaels will play rival Manhattan and Rider before traveling to Albany for the MAAC Tournament, which starts on Mar. 1.

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