After an inconsistent weekend at Fairfield, when Iona won big on Friday and lost by a large margin on Saturday, the Gaels came out with a lot of energy tonight and looked determined to make a statement at Rider. The Gaels got out to a big lead right from the start and they never gave it up, ultimately winning the game 70-56.
It was another solid game for senior Isaiah Ross, who tallied 18 points on 8-15 shooting. It continues to amaze me how much Ross has expanded his game this season. It should be noted that Ross was only 1-5 from beyond the arc tonight, and if this was last season, there’s a good chance he would’ve finished with only those 3 points. Rather than just being a shooter like he was last year, Ross has transformed himself into an all around scorer who can be productive at all three levels. Coach Pitino has been leaning on Ross to be the primary scoring option and he continues to thrive in that role.
Another huge part of tonight’s win was freshman big man Nelly Junior Joseph’s monster first half. He had 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in the first 20 minutes of play. Nelly added one more basket and two more rebounds in the second half to finish with 19 points and 7 rebounds, but if he can learn to play with the same intensity and focus throughout a full 40 minutes, he has the potential to be an All-MAAC caliber player in his freshman season. You can’t teach the size and athleticism that Nelly possesses, and as he continues to build upon his offensive skills, the sky is the limit for the freshman out of Nigeria.
One of the surprises going into this game was that senior point guard Asante Gist was not in the starting lineup. Why? I don’t know. I’m sure someone will ask Rick Pitino this in the postgame press conference. With that being said, after a bit of a quiet first half, Gist exploded in the second half and finished with 17 points along with 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Since he’s come back from injury, Gist has really shown how much of a difference maker he is for this Iona team. Everything looks and runs smoother with Gist at the point. His ball handling is elite and his ability to shoot from the beyond the arc really opens up driving lanes for him to score as well as drive and dish out to teammates for an open jump shot. All in all, everyone benefits from Gist being on the floor. As an experienced player, Gist is going to have to provide leadership both on and off the court for Iona to reach their full potential this season.
Senior Dylan Van Eyck had a very interesting game. He was only 2-9 from the field, but he still had an enormous impact on the outcome of the game by tallying 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 blocks. This is the great thing about Van Eyck, and it is something that we saw from him quite often last season as well: He doesn’t need to score points to be extremely productive. He is going to do all the little things that win basketball games. He wasn’t knocking down three-pointers like he had been in previous games, but I hope Pitino encourages him to continue taking them because if his shooting stroke can become anywhere near consistent, it would take this team to a whole new level.
The last player I’d like to mention in this recap is junior Berrick JeanLouis, who’s quietly been playing very efficiently recently. Tonight, JeanLouis had 8 points and was 3-6 from the field, and he also tallied 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. JeanLouis continues to be a defensive stopper and his offensive game is improving right before our eyes. He even knocked down a contested three-pointer tonight. Let’s hope that JeanLouis’s three-point stroke can be developed into a reliable asset, as this will make him virtually impossible to defend.
The one negative takeaway from this game is that Iona again seemed to lack production from the bench. Obviously Gist came off the bench tonight and produced, but it can be assumed that he’ll be back in the starting lineup tomorrow night. If sophomore guard Tahlik Chavez and freshman forward Dwayne Koroma can start playing to their full capabilities, it will make Iona even more difficult to game plan against. In college basketball, depth is a major key to postseason longevity.
Iona plays at Rider once again tomorrow night due to the unique MAAC schedule. Let’s hope game two of this weekend goes better than game two against Fairfield last weekend. I have faith that Rick Pitino’s mastermind will be able to anticipate Rider’s adjustments and hopefully he will make some adjustments himself. Regardless, Iona is undeniably more talented than Rider and they should have no problem completing the sweep against Rider tomorrow night. However, I said the same thing last week and we all know how that turned out! To me, if Iona comes out with the same energy they had tonight instead of coming out flat, this will be another double-digit victory for the Gaels.