Iona makes a statement in 77-71 win over first place Rider

Iona junior Tajuan Agee scored 16 points in win over Rider on Jan. 25.

Ryan McFadden, Sports Editor

The Iona College men’s basketball team proved yet again that the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is wide open with a statement 77-71 victory over Rider on Friday evening.

“I love the way our guys came out focused,” Iona Head Coach Tim Cluess said. “We knew we were short-handed and we found a way.”

Iona had to use a six-man rotation against Rider, as guards Ben Perez and Isaiah Still were out due to injuries. However, injuries didn’t stop Iona from feeding off a highly energetic Hynes Center and jumping out to a 21-9 lead, while shooting above 80 percent early in the first half.

After Rider’s Dimencio Vaughn got going offensively and help cut Iona’s lead to five points, the Gaels went on a 9-0 run to take a 16 point lead with two minutes to go in the first half.

Rider was trailing by nine points in the second half when the Broncs saw an opportunity to comeback. Iona junior forward Tajuan Agee, who had 14 points and eight rebounds at the time, got into serious foul trouble, which force Cluess to take him out of the game. Rider sifted the momentum and managed to take a 52-51 lead after Jordan Allen buried a pair of free throws.

“Rider is a really good second-half team,” Cluess said. “They did a nice job stopping us defensively and they made some good plays.”

Iona junior guard E.J. Crawford took his game to another level, scoring six of the Gaels’ next seven points to put them up by three.

“I think [Crawford] had a better offensive attack mode in the second half,” Cluess said. “In the first half, he was trying to get more three’s off. I think in the second half he got more aggressive. I’ve seen a lot of growth from him and I like his progress.”

With less than four minutes to go in regulation, Iona point guard Rickey McGill hit a floater that gave Iona a 64-61 lead. The shot initially didn’t count, as the referees called a shot-clock violation. The play was review and the final decision went in Iona’s favor.

McGill and transfer guard Asante Gist made clutch plays down the stretch to help secure the victory. One of the biggest play game happened at the 1:33 mark when McGill passed the ball to Gist for a layup in transition that gave Iona a 70-61 lead.

“That was our little spark,” McGill said. “For us to go on a 8-0 run late in the game was huge. We needed that.”

Crawford and Gist each scored 20 points. McGill flirted with a triple-double, registering 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Agee added 16 points, eight rebounds and made a pair of three-pointers.

Iona will hit the road for its next game against Fairfield on Sunday.