RECAP: Iona Gaels Bench Monmouth Hawks to Advance to NCAA Tournament

Senior guard AJ English paced a balanced scoring attack for the Iona Gaels, scoring 19 points to lead the Gaels past the Monmouth Hawks, 79-76, to take home the MAAC Championship and receive a berth in the NCAA Tournament. (Source: College Hoops Digest)
Senior guard AJ English paced a balanced scoring attack for the Iona Gaels, scoring 19 points to lead the Gaels past the Monmouth Hawks, 79-76, to take home the MAAC Championship and receive a berth in the NCAA Tournament. (Source: College Hoops Digest)

In what has been a rarity so far in the 2016 post-season, the MAAC Championship saw the top two teams in the conference go head-to-head for the right to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament.

The top-seeded Monmouth Hawks were the talk of the town in the NCAA this season, more so for their bench antics as opposed to their on-court play. However, their on-court play put them in the conversation for an at-large berth if they were unsuccessful in the conference tournament.

Like the Hawks, the second-seeded Iona Gaels had their sights set on an NCAA Tournament berth. A win by the Gaels could knock a team off the bubble, so it’s safe to say teams on the brink were pulling for the Hawks to come away on top.

With the top two teams going toe to toe, a game that went right down to the wire was only fitting. Iona was behind by 4 after the opening half, but used the momentum of a second half comeback to seize control in the final minutes.

Aaron Rountree made a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left to push the Gaels’ lead to 3, and AJ English came up with a game-saving steal with 4 seconds left to seal the deal for Iona.

Iona fought back in the second half to take down the Monmouth Hawks, 79-76, punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament in the process.

Monmouth took a four-point lead into the locker room, and wasted little time extending that lead out of the break in the second half. Deon Jones put in a layup in the opening minute to quickly extend the Hawks’ advantage to 6, but the Gaels weren’t about to throw in the towel.

Deyshonee Much responded with a three for the Gaels to get them back within 3 points, and that was the start of their comeback effort.

Before the Gaels would complete their comeback and take a lead of their own, the Hawks made one last attempt to run away with the contest. Je’lon Hornbeak connected on a three pointer to push the Hawks’ lead to 7 with 13:16 to play.

When it looked as though the Hawks were going to run away with the game, the Gaels came soaring back.

English hit two of three free throws to kick off the comeback efforts once more, and it was only a matter of time before the Gaels eliminated their deficit.

Iona would continue to chip away, but Monmouth was holding onto their lead as tight as they could. When the Gaels got to within a single basket, the Hawks would stretch things back to a two-possession game. Iona was threatening, and would keep pace with the Hawks right down to the wire.

Much would hit another three pointer, this time with under 5 minutes to play, and the Gaels were finally back in front by 1, at 66-65. Josh James would hit a jumper for the Hawks less than a minute later to the the game at 67-all.

The remaining four minutes were a back-and-forth battle for both teams. Much pushed the Gaels to a 4-point lead with under a minute to play, but the game would be decided in the closing seconds.

Jones hit a pair of free throws to bring the Hawks to within 1 with under 30 seconds to go, but Monmouth had to foul to get the ball back in the end. Rountree hit two free throws for the Gaels to push the lead back to 3, and Monmouth had a chance to tie the game with the last possession.

Out of a Monmouth timeout, the Hawks were looking to get a good look at the basket. English came up with a game-saving steal for the Gaels, sealing the deal and sending Iona back to the NCAA Tournament.

Iona fought back in the second half to secure an NCAA Tournament berth with the 79-76 victory over the Monmouth Hawks.


Game Leaders

Iona got big performances from their experienced players to lead them to the conference title on Monday night. Four different players scored in double figures, including senior guard AJ English, who scored a team-high 19 points in the win.

Jordan Washington recorded 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Isaiah Williams chipped in with 17 points.

Monmouth’s stars were steady on the night, but didn’t do quite enough to come away with the win. Je’lon Hornbeak scored a game-high 20 points, going 7-of-7 from the floor in the game.

Justin Robinson added 14 points, while freshman Micah Seaborn chipped in with 10 points of his own in the loss.


Looking Ahead

The win sent the second-seeded Iona Gaels (22-10, 16-4) into the NCAA Tournament, as they were able to translate regular season success into post-season success. They now await their fate, and will find out their opening opponent on Selection Sunday.

With the loss, the Monmouth Hawks (27-7, 17-3) become one of the more intriguing bubble teams on Selection Sunday. They have put together a relatively strong resume of wins, but some questionable losses could hinder their at-large chances. They could potentially knock another bubble team out of the tournament if the committee deems they are worthy of a spot in the field of 68.

– T.B.

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