Iona Knocks Out Fairfield Univ for 2021 MAAC Championship!
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – The Iona College men's basketball program won its league-leading 13th Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday afternoon. The ninth-seeded Gaels toppled No. 7 Fairfield by a final score of 60-51, earning a berth in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Defense was the mantra for the Gaels entering the MAAC Championship and its dedication to the cause did not waver in the tournament's final game. Iona's defense locked down Fairfield for the entirety of the game, holding the Stags to 30.2% shooting from the floor. While the defense preyed upon the Stags, the veteran backcourt of Asante Gist and Isaiah Ross fueled the Maroon & Gold offense, combining for 25 points on 10-for-21 shooting.
Fairfield opened the game missing its first six shots from the floor and five minutes in it was an 8-2 advantage for Iona. The Gaels defense was suffocating, allowing only one made field goal for the Stags in their first 11 shots.
The margin continued to creep in Iona's favor as the first half progressed. Leading 17-10 with 7:01 left, Fairfield's Taj Benning sparked a quick five-point run that made it a one-possession game with five minutes left before intermission. The Gaels called a timeout and responded in resounding fashion. Over the final 3:45 of the first half Iona went on a 10-0 run, hitting five-of-seven from the floor. Fairfield missed its final four shots of the first and committed three turnovers to help fuel the Maroon & Gold momentum.
Gist and Ross were crucial in the lead-extending run to end the first half. Gist had a pair of free throws to make it 28-18 and then blocked a Stags three-pointer attempt on the defensive end. On the ensuing offensive possession Ross buried a floater. Iona led Fairfield 30-18 at halftime. Gist led all scorers with 11 points at the break.
Credit to the Stags. They did not go down quietly into the night. Fairfield opened the second half hitting a three pointer and drawing a charge on the defensive end. Iona called timeout leading 32-25, but still the Stags kept coming. Jake Wojcik hit a three-pointer at the 15:08 mark and it was a four-point game.
The Gaels may have blinked, but they did not flinch. Nelly Junior Joseph hit a pair of massive buckets to help Iona get back on track, and a driving layup by Ross put the Maroon & Gold back in front ten, 38-28, with 13:21 to go.
Fairfield would never get closer than eight points over the final 10 minutes of the game. Iona knew it had the momentum when Ross crossed over a Stag and buried a three-pointer to push Iona's lead to 52-36 with 6:07 left. Six straight Stags free throws with five minutes left may have left some Gael fans worrying, but Gist eased the nerves with his clutch free throw shooting that was on display the entire MAAC Championship.
When the clock struck all zeroes, the Iona bench emptied in celebration and the scoreboard lit up: Iona 60, Fairfield 51.
The Iona Gaels are MAAC Champions once again.