Canisius held off Iona throughout a tense second half and earned an 84-82 victory over the Gaels on Sunday afternoon at Hynes Athletic Center in New Rochelle before a crowd of 1,562.
The road win over the two-time defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions was as big a regular season winas any in the last 22 seasons for the Golden Griffins.
By winning, coach Reggie Witherspoon's team (13-7, 7-1 MAAC) took sole possession of first place in the MAAC. Canisius has won only one conference regular season championship, 1994 when the Griffs went 12-2 under coach John Beilein. Two season later, the Griffs won their only conference tournament title, defeating Fairfield, 52-46, in the final in Albany. Again with Beilein coaching.
The win gave Canisius a sweep of the season series against Iona (12-8, 6-2). Last time that happened was in the 2006-07 season.
The Griffs won the first meeting, 85-78, at the Koessler Center on New Year's Eve.
"I think this was a good win," Witherspoon said in a bit of understatement. "... it certainly feels good being 7-1 in the MAAC, but I think we do have a pretty long way to go. It's pretty early, but obviously we'd rather be in this situation than any other spot.
"What this win says is that we have something to build on. We keep talking about playing confident, and playing with poise down the stretch. I thought we really did a good job of that today, especially late when they made that run to get the game down to one possession."
It's the first 7-1 start in conference play for Canisius since 2006-07. The Griffins were picked to finish ninth in the conference in a preseason poll of MAAC head coaches. It was also the ninth win in the last 10 games for Canisius. Winning at Hynes was also significant. Canisius had not won there since 2014 and only five times since joining the conference.
Iona had been undefeated (6-0) at home before Sunday's game.
The Griffs led, 44-42, at the end of the first half and trailed only once in the final 20 minutes, 59-58, with 14:55 left after a three-point basket by Shadrach Casimir of the Gaels. Canisius quickly regained the advantage on a dunk by Jermaine Crumpton off an assist by Takal Molson.
The Griffs led by 10, 81-71, after a three by Crumpton with 5:14 to go, but Canisius was not home free yet. Iona ran off eight points to trail 81-79 on a layup by T.K. Edogi with 2:36 left.
Canisius scored only three points the rest of the way, but they were enough. Jibreel Faulkner scored on a dunk off a pass from Malike Johnson to make it 83-79 with 1:51 left. Ricky McGill of the Gaels made one of two free throws to cut the margin to one with 42 seconds left and McGill made two more foul shots with 9 seconds left.
Isaiah Reese of Canisius made the second of two free throws with 1 second to go to close it out.
Reese led Canisius with 21 points. Crumpton had 18. Faulkner had 13, Johnson scored 12 with eight assists while Molson, a freshman, added 10 points and six assists.
Canisius shot 46.4 percent for the game on 32 of 69. The Griffs made 15 of 35 (42.9) from three-point range and five of only six free throws.
Iona shot 52.6 (30 of 57) overall but had 16 turnovers to only six for Canisius, a key factor in the outcome. The Gaels were 8 for 22 from outside the arc and were 14-17 at the foul line, which helped them hang with the Griffs.
Deyshonee Much of Rochester led Iona with 18 points. Edogi had 16 points and game-high 10 rebounds.