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Canisius can’t keep up with Iona in MAAC tourney

ALBANY – Canisius College simply did not have enough offensive firepower to keep up with the most potent offensive team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Friday night.

Iona College hit 13 three-point shots and scored a 73-55 victory over the Golden Griffins in the MAAC quarterfinals.

Iona advanced to a semifinal game against either Siena or Manhattan at 7 p.m. Sunday.

“We battled them but they’re a good basketball team,” said Canisius coach Jim Baron. “I was real proud of how our guys really battled them right to the end of the game. I really feel they’re the best team in the league.”

Canisius could do little to stop Iona’s bombs-away barrage. The Gaels rank 18th in the nation in three-point attempts at 27.7 a game. They rank 13th in the nation with 9.9 threes made per game.

Iona made six threes in the first nine minutes and had nine by halftime. The Gaels finished 13 of 30 behind the arc for the game. Iona’s lead was 15 points at halftime. Canisius never threatened in the second half. Iona led by 21 with 12 minutes to go.

It wasn’t a good matchup for Canisius, a capable offensive team that struggled on defense much of the season. Iona averaged a MAAC-best 81.8 points a game in conference. Canisius ranked ninth in the MAAC in points allowed (75.6) and 10th in shooting percentage allowed.

“They’re great shooters,” said Canisius guard Kassius Robertson. “It’s hard to help off, especially when they drive. They’re good at driving and kicking to their shooters. It kind of spreads out the defense. . . . I think we did a good job of closing out on a lot of them, but they’re great shooters and they made tough shots.”

Iona was led by star guard A.J. English, who scored 20 points, handed out 10 assists and made just one turnover. English is a two-time first-team all-conference pick who led the MAAC in scoring at 22.3 ppg. The Gaels got 18 from forward Isaiah Williams.

Canisius got 13 points from junior forward Phil Valenti, 11 from Robertson and 10 from senior forward Kevin Bleeker.

Canisius did not blame fatigue from playing a triple-overtime game against Niagara on Thursday night. The Griffs won, 102-97. But Baron thought the limited time to prepare for a rested Iona team didn’t help.

“There’s no excuses with fatigue,” Robertson said. “I gave it my all, and I know my teammates left it on the floor. . . . I think we played hard.”

“We knew it was going to be a quick turnaround,” Baron said. “We had a marathon of a game last night. . . . To be honest, we were spending our whole week in preparation for Niagara. We had beaten them twice. You have to be focused on the team in front of you because you may not get to the second team.”

The Griffs needed to have a hot-shooting night to have any chance. But they made just 6 of 21 three-point shots (30 percent). Canisius shot 42 percent from the field overall.

“They were switching man, zone, matchup, all kinds of different things, forcing us to get out of rhythm,” Baron said.

Records: Canisius ended its season 14-19. Iona improved to 20-10. It’s the seventh straight season Iona has hit the 20-win mark, and the Gaels have averaged 24 wins over that stretch. The Gaels have lost to Manhattan in the MAAC title game each of the past two years.

Seniors: Three Griffs played their last game for the team as seniors. Besides Bleeker they were guard Malcolm McMillan, who scored eight, and forward Jamal Reynolds, who had two.

First half: Iona came out firing. Ten of the Gaels’ first 14 shots were three-pointers and they made six of them. The Gaels jumped to a 22-14 lead and were up, 43-28, at intermission.

On one early possession the Gaels made 12 passes before taking a three.

“I love it,” said Iona coach Tim Cluess. “That makes my day when I see the ball move around the court like that. I just enjoy watching them play. As a coach I enjoy being a spectator when that’s going on out there.”

Series: Iona leads the series with Canisius, 39-30. The Gaels swept two regular-season games with the Griffs, winning 86-79 a week ago and 84-66 at Canisius on Feb. 5. It was the eighth time the Griffs and Gaels met in the MAAC Tournament.

All-Academic: Bleeker, the 6-foot-10 forward from the Netherlands, was named to the 17-man MAAC All-Academic team. Players needed a grade-point average of 3.2 or better to earn the honor. Bleeker is working toward a master’s degree in sport administration.

Top award: Monmouth point guard Justin Robinson earned the MAAC Player of the Year Award. Robinson, a 5-8 junior, ranked third in the conference in scoring at 20.2 ppg, seventh in assists at 3.7 a game and first in steals at 2.1 a game. It was a close call between Robinson and Iona’s English. The Gaels’ senior ranked No. 1 in scoring (22.3), first in three-pointers made (3.3) and first in assists (6.1).

MAAC Tourney: Canisius improved to 12-4 in MAAC first-round games with its win over Niagara Thursday. The Griffs fell to 24-26 all-time in the MAAC Tournament and 8-16 in the quarterfinal round.

In the house: The crowd was about 800 at Times-Union Arena.