NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- The Iona Express kept on rolling Friday night.
Despite being without two of their top three scorers, the Gaels defeated a decent Siena side, 87-83, at the Hynes Center. It's Iona's fourth straight win, upping their record to 17-6 overall and 10-2 in the MAAC -- 1.5 games better than second-place Rider and Manhattan.
"I think our guys just played their hearts out," Iona coach Tim Cluess said. "I think we had a lot of players give everything they could tonight to make up for having two players down, and it just showed their grit and toughness."
Iona was without star guard A.J. English, the ninth-leading scorer in Division I (20.7 ppg), suspended for one game for his role in a postgame scrum following a win over St. Peter's last weekend. Swingman Isaiah Williams, the Gaels' third-leading scorer (14.2 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (6.4 rpg), missed his sixth game in a row due to a foot injury.
Not many college basketball teams can overcome absences like that. Iona did -- for one night, at least.
It helps to have a player like David Laury. The 6-foot-9 senior, eighth in D-I at 21.0 points per game and also pacing the team with 9.3 rebounds per game, went above and beyond against Siena. The big man poured in 27 points and played the full 40 minutes, but he wasn't satisfied.
"I think personally I played a decent game -- I only had six rebounds," Laury said. "I was more happy that my team stepped up -- guys who aren't used to stepping up."
Freshman guard Schadrac Casimir added 22 points and junior backcourt mate Kelvin Amayo chipped in 17. The Gaels led by as many as 13 midway through the second half, and held off the Saints thanks to phenomenal free-throw shooting -- Casimir and Amayo were a combined 21-for-21 from the charity stripe.
"Today we showed our team’s toughness," Casimir said. "Any given time, someone can step up."
English will be back for Sunday's home game against Marist, and Williams is expected back sometime before the end of the regular season. With its roster intact, Iona is plenty capable of going to the NCAA Tournament and possibly taking down one of the big dogs.
Of course, the Gaels will still have to win the MAAC tournament to do so. Their RPI is pretty good (59), but not good enough to garner an at-large bid.
It is good enough, however, to get them a No. 12 seed, according to the latest edition of ESPN.com's Bracketology. And we all know how many 12 vs. 5 upsets there have been in the Big Dance.
But Iona still has lots of work to do. Manhattan is coming on strong -- the Jaspers won their fourth in a row Friday as well. The two local rivals still have both of their regular-season matchups remaining, and they could face off in the MAAC championship game for a third year in a row.
Manhattan upset Iona in last year's title game.
But these Gaels are really building a head of steam, and winning a game like this, severely shorthanded, could provide a big boost.
"It's great for the guys, are you kidding me?" Cluess said. "You go out there and have to make plays like that in those game situations -- and for our other guys to know when they’re healthy that they can trust the other players as well now. Now they've been in big situations and know how to make big plays and they've been able to do it and have tasted success."
"It does something to our confidence and our morale, knowing that we won without Isaiah and A.J.," Laury said. "[But] we don’t expect to lose. That’s not what we do."