Iona built an 11-point lead at halftime and hung on for an 84-73 victory over Fairfield on Friday. The Gaels are now 6-1 in MAAC play, but things aren’t quite perfect.
Here are five thoughts as I watched David Laury work on free throws. (He was 5-11 from the line).
1) This team is still more offense than defense: There probably won’t ever be a time where a Tim Cluess coached Iona team is stronger on defense than on offense. The Gaels are still relying on the offense to hit big shots to make sure lackluster defense doesn’t prevent them from blowing leads. It seems that struggles on the offensive end lead to lapses defensively.
Iona allowed Fairfield to score 1.03 points per possession, but countered with 1.18 points per possession. What happens on the nights when Iona can’t quite get the offense spaced perfectly or Sean Armand or Momo Jones struggles from the field? That’s where this team’s legacy will be written.
2) More Justice League than superstar and sidekick: Both Armand and Jones did an excellent job of staying within their roles during the game. Armand went off in the first half, scoring 15 points and finished with 23 in the game. In the second half it was Jones’ time to shine, as he scored 22 in the final 20 minutes and finished with 27 in the game. The ability of Iona’s two backcourt stars to feed off each other means that the offense is that much more difficult to counter.
“I think that’s how it should be sometimes and it’s nice when that happens and we’re both gelling,” Armand said. “It’s going to be even more difficult for teams. It was a great effort.”
3) Fewer threes might not be all bad: It was mentioned on Twitter, but Iona seems to get better three-point shots than almost any other team in the nation. The Gaels do an excellent job spacing the floor and a dangerous shooter, whether it’s Armand, A.J. English or DaShawn Gomez is always lurking down in the short corner. Considering Jones and Armand showed off their almost limitless range once they get past half court, you’d think Iona would fall in the love with the three.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case on Friday night. The Gaels attempted 20 threes in their 64 shots or 31% of their total field goal attempts. It was lower than usual. Iona also managed to shoot 9-20 (45%) from deep. A little less reliance on the three should make Iona’s offense a little more consistent moving forward.
4) No Taaj Ridley, no problems (sort of…): In the first half Iona didn’t seem to miss its senior power forward as the Gaels dominated on the glass. With Amadou Sidibe out of foul trouble Fairfield flipped the span style=visibility:hidden in the second half. With Ridley out for an indefinite amount of time due to an academic suspension other players, like Laury, and Nyandigsi Moikobu are going to have to give Cluess consistent minutes.
Laury knows how to use his athleticism in space, but he struggled around the rim against the Stags. He shot 2-12 for the game, but did have 14 rebounds and five blocks. He’s got game-changing athleticism, but can’t be wondering about when contact is going to come (and how he’ll hold up on the line). Moikobu gave the Gaels some solid minutes in the first half, but Cluess went small most of the game with four guards. Some bigger MAAC teams might be able to take advantage of it.
5) Records can be deceiving: Iona is now 6-1 and Fairfield is 2-5, but records can be deceiving. The Gaels have four wins against the lower half of the MAAC already and have played four of the seven at home. Now comes a difficult stretch in which the Iona will play four of their next five games on the road. An especially daunting three-game trip comes at the end of January as the Gaels will play at Loyola (MD), Niagara and Canisius all in a row. That’s the key to winning the league.
The record doesn’t really do the Stags justice either. They’ve lost four straight games now, but they were all really difficult. At Niagara, at Loyola (MD), Niagara and at Iona is about as difficult a stretch as a team can play in the league. This loss was the worst of the four. Things don’t get easier on Monday as Loyola comes to Connecticut. But then all Fairfield has left is Iona at home on February 18. Don’t be surprised if the Stags go on a big run in February.