By Paul Gotham
SPRINGFIELD, MA – David Laury converted a late putback slam, and Sean Armand hit one of two free throws with 28 seconds remaining as Iona’s Gaels defeated the Canisius Golden Griffins, 75-72 Sunday afternoon at the MassMutual Center to advance to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship.
Bowman’s free throw proved to be the winner as Iona survived a furious Canisius comeback.
“They made runs at us all game long,” Iona coach Tim Cluess said. “Our guys found a way to sustain those runs, found a way to win.”
Trailing by as many as a dozen with less than 12 minutes remaining, the Griffs rallied late to tie the score with 1:28 on the game clock.
Billy Baron scored nine in a 10-0 run as Canisius tied the score 70.
The senior point guard drilled a pull up 3-pointer to start the spurt. He converted a pair of one and one free throws before going end to end for a layup. Chris Perez hit one of two from the charity stripe, and Baron landed two more free ones for the second tie of the game and first since 3-3.
“They’re a good team,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons. It was a hard-fought game. We fell short.”
Iona came out of the first media time out of the second half leading by nine. Armand’s catch-and-shoot three from Mike Poole gave the Gaels their first double-digit advantage at 59-47 with 14:15 left in the game.
“Every segment you break it down,” Armand said. “It’s four-minute segments.”
Canisius switched between a variety of zone defenses and man-to-man to whittle away at the lead.
“We tried switching defenses to take them out of their rhythm,” Jim Baron noted. “We wanted to be aggressive.”
“We weren’t crisp,” Cluess said of his team’s play as Canisius used 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones. “We were hanging on to the ball too long.”
Iona responded. Armand found Isaiah Williams behind the zone for two. English nailed a three, and David Laury hit a pair of free throws pushing the lead back to 10.
The win gives Iona a chance for consecutive MAAC titles and its third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s all we work for,” Armand said.
The senior guard finished with a team-high 21 on 8 of 11 shooting including 4 of 6 behind the arc.
Williams added 16 apiece while English chipped in 12.
Laury pulled down 12 rebounds.
“It is effort,” Laury said of his work on the boards. “But you can make it a habit.”
Iona outscored Canisius 10-2 to take a seven-point lead into the locker room.
Dominique Raney drilled a three ball from the top giving Canisius a 39-38 edge with just under three minutes remaining in the half. Iona took over from there. Tre Bowman canned back-to-back treys for Iona. Chris Manhertz converted one of two from the free throw line before Mike Poole found Isaiah Williams slashing along the baseline with a bounce pass for two. Manhertz connected on a pair from the charity stripe, but Armand closed the stanza with a pull-up jumper at the buzzer to give Iona a 48-41 lead.
Williams hit 2 of 3, and the Gaels found the measure on four of their first five attempts from long range as Iona took an 18-11 lead less than five minutes into the game.
Billy Baron took an inside-out pass from Manhertz and nailed a three. Chris Perez blew past English on the perimeter for a lay-in. Perez trimmed the deficit to two at 26-24 with a runner across the lane, and Phil Valenti leveled the score at 26 with two charity tosses.
Armand pushed the lead back to five for Iona with a three over Lewis and a runner in transition.
Baron gave the Griffs a 36-35 lead when he used a Manhertz ball screen to get in the lane for two.
Baron led all scorers with 23. Manhertz registered a double-double scoring 15 and grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. Zach Lewis started the game 3 of 3 behind the arc and finished with 13 points. Perez scored 12.
The game was the first semi-final appearance for the Griffs since 2002.
Iona will play Manhattan in Monday’s championship game. A 7 pm tip time is scheduled.