Coming off a two game sweep against Rider last weekend, Iona kept it rolling tonight with another dominant win against Coppin State, making it a three game winning streak. Despite a first half that was filled with careless mistakes and missed shots, the Gaels always maintained a lead and kept control of the game. This is a testament to the elite talent that is on this Iona team. Even on off nights, this team can put it together and win by large margins. No one shot the ball particularly well, but everyone found a way to contribute in a positive way and this turned a close 36-31 halftime score into a lopsided victory the Gaels.
I know this is getting repetitive, but Isaiah Ross just continues to score so effectively and play with so much confidence. The senior guard had 28 points along with 6 rebounds and 2 steals. Ross seemed to score in every way imaginable tonight. One of the biggest difference I see in Ross’s mentality this year is that while he used to shy away from contact and stay on the perimeter, he now embraces it and uses his strength and size to finish at the rim and get to the foul line. He has the ability to carry this offense at any given time, and we saw that in the beginning of the second half of this game, when Ross almost single-handedly carried the scoring load and gave Iona some much needed separation. His versatility as a scorer has turned him into a matchup nightmare for opponents, and I completely expect Ross to be the premier scorer in the MAAC this season and maybe even one of the top in the nation.
Isaiah Ross’s backcourt mate and fellow senior Asante Gist also had himself a huge night, scoring 24 points to go along with 5 assists. On top of being a great point guard and a great leader on the court, one of the best things about having Gist out there is that it gives opponents another elite shooter to pay attention to, which prevents teams from being able to keep all their focus on Ross. I think it’s quite obvious that Ross gets more open looks when Gist is on the court, and this is primarily due to the threat that Gist is as as a shooter and scorer as well as his ability to break the down the defense and space the floor for shooters, specifically Ross. We did see some careless turnovers from Gist in this game, but I think the turnovers were mainly due to miscommunication, which is something that will become and less and less of a problem as the season goes on. Gist is undoubtedly the quarterback of this offense, and so far he’s done a great job getting the most out of each and every player, even when guys aren’t shooting or playing their best.
The other Gael who had a big night was freshman big man Nelly Junior Joseph. After a very quiet first half, Nelly really turned it on in the second half, and finished with 16 points to go along with a whopping 12 rebounds and 2 blocks. A big reason why the first half was so close was because Nelly was essentially invisible until the second half, when he finally locked in on both sides of the ball, converting on multiple and-1’s and pulling down a bunch of rebounds on both offense and defense. Iona will always keep it close with teams like Coppin State or other MAAC teams simply due to their talent, but when Nelly plays with that extra sense of urgency and extreme focus, it takes the Gaels to another level and turns them into a team that can potentially compete with higher level programs. I truly believe that Nelly’s commitment to playing to his full potential throughout the entirety of games on a consistent basis will be instrumental to how far this Iona team can go.
To conclude this recap, let’s talk about Dylan Van Eyck who despite only having 6 points, still contributed in a big way, as he always does. The senior forward grabbed 12 rebounds, dished out 3 assists, and had a steal and a block. Having two players with double-digit rebounds is incredible, and if they can dominate the glass like this on a regular basis, Iona is going to convert on a lot of second chance points and limit the amount of shots taken by opponents, which is a recipe for success. Van Eyck might not be a primary scoring option the way his fellow seniors Ross and Gist are, but his role is not any less important, and his unselfishness and energy make him impossible to take out of the game because the winner’s mentality that he possesses translates to the other guys on the floor. Without Van Eyck, Iona would be nowhere close to the team they are right now, especially from a defensive standpoint.
It should be mentioned that sophomore guard Tahlik Chavez got significant playing time tonight, finishing with a stat line of 5 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. He provided great energy off the bench for the Gaels, which is something that they’ve been lacking all season long. The interesting part is that he played 18 minutes while freshman guard Ryan Myers only played 9 minutes, although Myers has gotten much more playing time in previous games. It will be interesting to see how Rick Pitino handles the playing time of these two talented guards as the season goes on.
Iona’s game is scheduled for next Tuesday against Towson. It looks like this will be their last non-conference game, and it looks like another game that the Gaels should win handily. Towson is 0-4 so far this season and considering they just resumed after a nearly a month of no games due to pandemic-related postponements, I don’t expect them to be ready to compete with Iona, a more talented team and a team that has more games under their belt. Iona looks to be shaping up nicely as a team, but it is important that they continue to go into every game with a “kill or be killed” mindset because they’re still very inexperienced and inconsistent team, and this game against Towson is a perfect example of a game that can turn into a heartbreaking loss if they don’t go into the game with the right mindset. Let’s hope Iona has a good week of practice and takes care of business Tuesday against Towson to close out the non-conference slate.