By Leif Skodnick
NEW ROCHELLE, NY – Iona College head coach Tim Cluess had the best seat in the house for the few seconds of the Gaels’ game against St. Peter’s University he enjoyed Wednesday night.
Standing at the end of the bench nearest mid-court, he was directly behind sophomore guard A.J. English when English calmly made a three-pointer with just 2.3 seconds remaining to secure a 62-59 win for Iona at Hynes Athletics Center.
“When he shot it, I was right behind him, and I could see it was a good flight of the ball,” said Cluess. “Honestly, we didn’t deserve to hit that, because we didn’t play well late in the game.”
Despite the last-second win and solid defensive play by his squad, Cluess was not pleased with the Gaels’ performance.
“I think out whole team looked sluggish out there, like we weren’t finishing shots,” Cluess said, addressing the media after the game.
St. Peter’s worked hard to slow down the speedy Iona offense, aggressively grabbing defensive rebounds and moving quickly up the court. At the other end of the floor, St. Peter’s utilized precise passing around the perimeter to run down the shot clock.
“I thought we had a good game plan going in. I thought our guys tried to execute it, and we made it a game in their gym,” said St. Peter’s head coach John Dunne. “At the end of the day, we controlled tempo very well.”
The game plan worked, as St. Peter’s found themselves down by just two points at halftime, having held the Gaels to just 24 points in the first half.
“St. Peter’s slowed the game for us last time,” said English. “Everybody knows we like to run. Their game was to slow the ball down tonight and they did a great job at it.”
Leading 26-22 just over a minute into the second half, Iona had to pull guard Mike Poole off the floor after he earned his second and third personal fouls in a span of 15 seconds. Poole had ten points and was shooting 5-for-5 from the field when Cluess put Poole on the bench.
“He was playing very well, so that definitely hurt us when he had to come out of the game,” Cluess said.
Despite getting into foul trouble, Poole trusted his teammates to get the job done without him.
“They’re just as good or better than me,” Poole said. “So just let them go out there and play the game.”
Cluess was pleased with the play of Isaiah Williams, who came in for Poole and went 3-for-5 from three-point territory.
St. Peter’s whittled Iona’s largest lead of the game, eleven points with 12:44 remaining, down to just two points, 57-55, with 35 seconds to play when St. Peter’s guard Marvin Dominique made an easy layup from the right side.
“People aren’t going to lie down. We made a couple of key errors, key mistakes, and they fought back and brought a great game,” said Iona forward David Laury, who lead the Gaels with 16 points and made 10-of-14 free throws, thought his team should have held on to their lead.
English re-established Iona’s four-point lead, making two free throws with 25 seconds remaining after he was fouled at the top of the arc by Peacocks guard Desi Washington.
On the ensuing possession, St. Peter’s guard Trevis Wyche drove from the right side into the lane, dribbling with his left hand against Iona’s Tre Bowman. Bumping Bowman in the low post, Wyche bobbled the ball, but was able to put up a weak, underhanded toss with both hands that dropped to cut the lead to 59-57.
Watching from the right side, St. Peter’s Jamel Fields swooped in to steal the inbound pass out of English’s hands and toss in a right-handed layup to tie the game at 59 with four seconds remaining.
Poole inbounded the ball to Sean Armand, who dribbled up the right side, drove to the top of the arc, and passed it over to English on the left. English gathered the pass and smoothly launched a shot with 2.3 seconds remaining that found the bottom of the net.
“I just looked at the clock. I felt if I drove or passed, the double-team would have come and there wouldn’t have been enough time to put up a shot, so I just put it up and it went in,” said English, who was 0-for-7 from three-point range and 1-for-10 from the field before making that shot. “I don’t feel like I struggled tonight, I just felt like the ball wasn’t going in the basket.”
The win gives Iona, 13-2 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 16-8 overall, a 2.5 game lead over Manhattan and Quinnipiac, who are both 10-4 in the M.A.A.C. St. Peter’s falls to 5-10 in the M.A.A.C. and 9-15 overall.