Iona’s press wears down Siena men’s basketball as Saints lose 74-57

Siena's Colby Rogers looks for room to shoot against the defense of Iona's Dylan van Eyck (24) and Colton Cashaw at the Hynes Center on Tuesday.

Siena's Colby Rogers looks for room to shoot against the defense of Iona's Dylan van Eyck (24) and Colton Cashaw at the Hynes Center on Tuesday.

NEW ROCHELLE — If you blinked, you may have missed it.

Steal, 3-pointer, steal, dunk … in a span of seven seconds.

And just like that, a manageable score for the Siena men’s basketball team took its first lightning-strike step toward a blowout win for Iona.

The Gaels ran away from the Saints 74-57 before 2,087 at the Hynes Center on Tuesday night, and did so by discombobulating Siena with the fullcourt press, most decisively during a sequence early in the second half that pushed a 38-30 Iona lead to 44-30.

The Saints failed to complete consecutive inbounds passes from the baseline, and Iona wasted no time converting the turnovers into points, as Ryan Myers hit a 3-pointer off his own steal, then Dylan van Eyck dunked off a steal of his own while being fouled.

His free throw gave the Gaels a 44-30 lead with 14:30 left — six points in seven seconds — and Iona pushed the lead to as much as 25 with 6:41 to play before the Saints chipped away at the margin during the meaningless closing minutes.

Siena fell to 3-3 in the MAAC and 6-8 overall, and the Gaels improved to 9-0 and 17-3 while winning their sixth straight and improving to 8-0 at home.

Both teams looked turnover-prone in the final box score, but Siena managed just six assists, and had no solution for Iona’s relentless press and double teams in the backcourt for much of the second half.

“Careless … careless,” Siena head coach Carm Maciariello said. “We didn’t move our stack up in our press break to be able to have more space to get in the floor. We didn’t ball-fake. Little details matter.”

“I said in the timeout [late in the first half], ‘Look, they’ve got 14 points, it’s a defensive win,'” Iona head coach Rick Pitino said. “When we won a national championship [at Louisville in 2013, since vacated], we had to play Wichita State in a bloodbath, and then against Michigan we were able to go up and down. Defense is going to determine who wins this game.

“And what broke the game open was all the steals off the press, when we got a dunk, and we got a 3.”

During a ragged first half, Colby Rogers scored 11 points for Siena, while no one else from either team had more than six.

Rogers hit a 3 with 24 seconds left to cut the Gaels’ lead to 29-21, and that’s where it stood at halftime, after an Iona turnover and missed pullup jumper in transition by Rogers just before the buzzer.

The teams traded points in the first five minutes of the second half, then the Gaels snared the back-to-back inbounds passes for instant points, and Siena never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.

“We knew they were going to be physical, but we’ve got to play through that,” Rogers said. “Just take it as a learning point so next time we’re prepared for it. I don’t think it was anything out of the ordinary, they just out-physicaled us.

“Most of those [turnovers] are on us. We’ve got to be sharper with our passes, with our ball-fakes, with our screening, with getting open. The whole deal, with breaking the press, we’ve just got to be sharper in that area.”

“The momentum swung to our side,” Iona’s Elijah Joiner said. “We opened the lead up a little more and forced them to call a timeout. When we’ve got our press going, and we’re getting steals and deflections and fast breaks, that’s when we’re at our best. And that’s when we were able to get the crowd going.”

The game had been scheduled for New Year’s Eve, but was postponed because of COVID-19 protocols within the Siena program.
Siena will see the Gaels, who are running away with first place in the MAAC, again on Feb. 11 at MVP Arena.

“We turned it over 18 times, live-ball turnovers against their pressure, and only six assists,” Maciariello said. “You’ve got to be able to share the ball, play inside-out.

“Defensively, at least in the first half, we did a pretty good job. Still have to be able to rebound and limit them to one shot and play a little bit in transition. But, not good enough.”

“We know they’re a good team,” Pitino said. “They’ve got a lot of transfers. We know they’re a tough basketball team, they play hard. I thought we did a fabulous job taking away their 3. We say if we get a lot of deflections, we take care of the backboard and we stop the 3, we’ve got a great chance of winning, to be very simple.”

Siena finished the game 5-for-17 (29.4%) from 3-point range. Rogers was 5-for-8, but the rest of the team was 0-for-9.

Joiner, Myers and Nelly Junior Joseph each scored 13 points for Iona, and the 6-foot-9 Joseph had eight rebounds, four steals and three of the Gaels’ 11 blocks.

Freshman point guard Javian McCollum did not make the trip because he’s behind on some academic work, Maciariello said.

“Not having Javian McCollum tonight hurts us, too, because he’s another guy who can make plays and get guys open,” Maciariello said. “He can penetrate and has a good floor vision.

It’s [classroom grade] got to be posted in a day or two, so that’s the goal.”

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