“We really wasn’t supposed to be here.”
Despite all Iona have been through, it’s a statement on their perseverance that they were at the NCAA tournament. Two covid-19 breaks meant the Gaels played only 17 games before getting to the national tournament.
Head coach Rick Pitino made sure to try his best with the team, but it wasn’t enough.
A foundation of hope for Iona
The No. 15-seeded Gaels started out their half in a sort of shock going up against No. 2-seeded Alabama. It was looking like Iona were scraping for chances while Alabama ran away with opportunity after opportunity. The Gaels finally started to show up after a timeout from Pitino.
Fouling was the aim of the game for Crimson Tide as they kept Iona at bay on their side of the court for a long while. The game got to 17-11 with Alabama up and it was a long break after that for both teams as they couldn’t seem to find the bucket.
Alabama’s arc defense forced the Gaels to push forward with their attacks, which led to Crimson Tide’s forcing of fouls and pressure. It was in these key moments that ball control messed up for Iona, leading to Alabama to take a couple of turnovers.
Later in the first half came a long break for the Gaels to score. Alabama kept Iona at bay for nearly seven minutes before the Gaels could have any chance at scoring again. It was freshman forward Nelly Junior Joseph to break the silence that helped Iona get back into the game.
Iona building on the foundation
In the latter half of the first, 3-pointers were finally going in, with senior guard Isaiah Ross draining three from seven at the arc in the first half. Alabama’s arc defense didn’t hold up for long as Iona kept taking their chances from the line, going 4-14 the whole half.
It took a while for the Gaels to even touch the foul line, compared to Alabama who was there every few minutes or so. At one point, Alabama was at 7-11 compared to the Gaels 0-0.
Another 9-0 run came from Iona before Alabama went on their own 7-0 run as well. At the end of the half came a huge play from sophomore guard Parker Weiss as he made a steal in the Gaels side of the court. The steal caused a play to end at Ross, who drained a crucial 3-pointer to end the half 32-33.
Top performers for Crimson Tide in the first half include senior forward and guard Herbert Jones, who went 5-9 in field goals, junior guard Keon Ellis with a team-high four rebounds, and sophomore guard Jaden Shackelford with 3-5 in field goals.
The Gaels had a couple good performances as well in the first from Ross who went 6-12 in field goals, Junior Joseph with three rebounds, and Gist who went 3-7 in field goals and 1-3 from the arc.
Perseverance only lasts so long
The second half opened up with that first half hope being enhanced even more when junior guard Berrick Jeanlouis was on fire with a couple of crucial blocks at the 17:45 and 16:30 marks.
It was a rough first half for senior guard John Petty Jr. and his inconsistency creeped into the second half. When Alabama had a chance to get some easy points at the line, he missed twice. This trend of missing crucial shots continued for Alabama for a majority of the game. At one point, Alabama had gone 19 minutes of in-game time without scoring a 3-pointer.
Iona’s defense was the highlight of the early second half. At the 15:40 mark, the Gaels held the Crimson Tide at 2-13 from the arc. JeanLouis had a group of crucial offensive rebounds that kept the Gaels momentum going.
The game was looking up for Iona until senior forward Alex Reese scored a 3-pointer for Alabama. Redshirt freshman forward Juwan Gary followed up with a big dunk. It was evident here that the benches were the difference between the two teams. At one point, Alabama’s bench had 10 points while Iona’s only had four.
Alabama wins the battle of the benches
This became more evident when sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly had a couple of quick cuts through Iona’s defense at around the 9:40 mark. These drives into the paint would prove to be too quick for the Gaels throughout the rest of the half.
Later in the second, Reese would score another huge three which would be followed up by a huge steal from Jones. These quick successions of plays would help Alabama lead 54-46 at around 7:51.
Alabama would go on a 9-0 scoring run at around the seven-minute mark. A great alley-oop play topped off the run. The play was made possible thanks to a lacking Iona defense. By the time it got to the 3:44 mark, Alabama would be on a 13-2 run.
From then on, Crimson Tide would run away with the win after some more solid basketball from Reese, Quinerly and Gary. Shackelford put the final nail in the coffin when he drained a last minute 3-pointer. The game finally ended 68-55.
Overall top performers for Crimson Tide include Jones with 20 points, Quinerly with 11 points, and Shackelford with 10 points.
Good players for the Gaels include Ross with 19 points, Gist with 16 points, and Junior Joseph with six rebounds.
The Gaels officially end their season 12-6 overall.