Iona defeats Siena in rout to seventh straight MAAC Championship appearance


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Iona junior guard Asante Gist finished with 22 points in the win against Siena.

Ryan McFadden, Sports Editor

ALBANY- The Iona College men’s basketball junior Asante Gist didn’t have the prettiest Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament debut, going 0-4 in the Gaels win over St. Peter’s in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Yet, the 5-foot-11 guard remained confident and was determined not to let that poor outing carry over to Iona’s semifinals matchup against Siena on Sunday.

Gist was attacking the rim and knocking down shots from deep to help Iona beat Siena 73-57 and advance to its seventh straight MAAC Championship game.

“My teammates kept telling me to ‘keep playing and keep doing what you’re doing,’ for the past day,” Gist said. “Coach [Tim Cluess] even told me that after the St. Peter’s game. It was kind of a rough game because I couldn’t get into rhythm and I got into foul trouble in the beginning. [Tonight], I was just trying to do whatever it takes to win.”

Gist finished with a game-high 22 points, three assists and went 3-5 from behind the arc. Iona barely gave Siena fans something to cheer about, not allowing the Saints to take the lead throughout the game.

Iona jumped out to a 7-0 lead during the opening minutes of the game. Siena’s Kadeem Smithen came off the bench and hit a pair of three-pointers to cut the deficit to one, but Gist and junior guard E.J. Crawford sparked a 14-4 run in the middle of the first half.

Iona made drastic improvements to its defensive pressure compared to last game, holding Siena to 37 percent shooting from the floor and 8-28 at the three-point line. The Gaels also stepped up their performance on the glass, collecting 37 rebounds.

“Coach made it obvious that we had to assert ourselves on defense,” Gist said. “We took it upon ourselves to lock down defensively as a team.”

Iona was able to limit Siena freshman guard and MAAC Rookie of the Year Jalen Pickett’s offensive production, keeping him scoreless throughout the first half.

“After watching [Siena] play last night, we knew if we didn’t defend them, it was going to be a long night for us,” Cluess said. “They have a lot of weapons and they half of their shots as three pointers. We had to do something to adjust to that.”

Pickett ended up with 15 points on 6-14 shooting. Siena senior Fisher tallied 15 points and five rebounds before being ejected in the second half.

Crawford had 16 points and eight rebounds, while senior point guard Rickey McGill tallied 18 points and six assists. Junior forward Tajuan Agee had six points and 12 rebounds and junior guard Ben Perez added eight points.

“Tajuan wasn’t feeling great today even though he had 12 rebounds,” Cluess said. “It was important for other guys to step up and E.J. helped us in some many ways.”

Iona will play on Monday for a chance at a four straight MAAC title and a automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. However, Cluess is trying to treat it as a normal game.

“It’s just the next game up and it’s going to be a tremendous one,” Cluess said. “We have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and that’s what you work for all year long.”