Gaels inconsistency leads to heartbreak at home

Dan Abbate, Staff Writer

The Iona men’s basketball team is preparing for the upcoming Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament after a heartbreaking 68-69 loss to Quinnipiac in their final home game of the season.

The Gaels are reaching the end of a regular season full of ups and downs. The maroon and gold lost seven out of their first 10 inter-conference matchups, making their record 9-10 before Wednesday’s game. Senior forward E.J. Crawford has led the way for Iona, dropping multiple performances with over 20 points and raising his season scoring average to 18.8 points per game. Crawford’s veteran leadership has inspired the rest of the team to follow his lead.

Junior sharpshooter Isaiah Ross has been another key player for Iona, as his impressive 3-point shooting opens up the paint for drives by Crawford and post-up opportunities for veteran big man Tajuan Agee. He played well in the final home game of the season, making four three pointers on eight attempts, as well as collecting seven rebounds.

The absence of head coach Tim Cluess has had an impact on the Gaels throughout the season. His leadership led Iona to four straight MAAC championships. Having a coach with championship experience and a passion for winning has been a major factor throughout Iona’s multiple playoff runs. Current head coach Tra Arnold has done a good job of keeping the Gaels competitive as they await the eventual return of coach Cluess.

Iona’s last home game of the season was senior night, and the fans at the Hynes Athletic Center came in support of the student athletes that have brought the school so much success. After early shooting struggles, including a 29.4 shooting percentage and only making two out of 15 threes, the Gaels rallied back to make the game close midway through the second half. After a block by Agee and a three pointer from Crawford, Iona took the lead with 8:23 left to play. After Quinnipiac retook the lead with a minute remaining, a three by Ross brought the Gaels to a single-point deficit. After a missed free throw, the team was given a chance to win the game at the buzzer. Ross once again got a good look at the rim as time expired, but his shot bounced off the rim and onto the floor as the buzzer signaled the end of the game.

Without the struggles of the first half, Iona would have likely ended up taking home the win. A key focus for the Gaels as they prepare for the tournament is consistency throughout the game. Defensive adjustments will be another point of emphasis for the team, as their zone defense had problems keeping up with Quinnipiac’s ball movement and perimeter-centric attack for the majority of the game.

When asked about the game after the final buzzer, Arnold was displeased with how the match went.

“We shot 13% from three in the first half,” Arnold said. “We shot 28 threes on the game, it’s not really how we’ve been winning.”

Arnold is likely referring to the paint centered offense that the Gaels have used in their recent victories. Agee is a force near the basket and Crawford has made many mid-range jumpers and close-range fadeaway shots this season.

Arnold gave a straight-forward response about how the team can improve. “We just got to play harder, or we’re going to get beat,” Arnold said.