A big crowd turned out at Iona's Hynes Center in New Rochelle for the Gaels Senior Day honoring seniors Rashon Dwight and Alejo Rodriquez from the men's basketball team, and the cheerleaders and dance team members. A special tribute was held at half-time honoring the highly successful men's and women's cross-country teams from Iona.
Then, of course, the conference leading Fairfield Stags with a 23-5 record had come to town to take on the Gaels in what could be a preview of a the MAAC Tournament finals to be played in Bridgeport, CT.
The seniors on the Iona dance team and cheerleading squad were honored for their dedicated support of Iona basketball which provides great game day presentation and atmosphere for every Gaels game at the Hynes Center.
Senior guard Rashon Dwight from Newark, NJ is a very likable young guy. He is always smiling and speaks easily to those around him.
On the court he has been very focused helping to rebuild the Gaels basketball program. He has scored 756 career points for Iona an average of 6.5 per game over a full 117 games played over four years. He has 324 rebounds, 272 assists, and 132 steals. In other words the story of a solid and steady contributor.
Rashon was called on to serve as a captain as early as his sophomore season. He has been known for his calming influence on teammates.
In the 2010-2011 season Rashon has split time starting and coming off the bench.
He has improved his scoring average from 5.6 to 8.0 per game this season. His shooting percentage is substantially better going from 32% last year to 41% this year. His three point shot percentage has also improved from 32% to 40%. Perhaps this is reflective of the growth of Rashon as a player knowing better when to take shots or to pass off to teammates.
Rashon has had a number of strong offensive games this year highlighted by 19 points scored early in the year against Cleveland State and 18 against Loyola in January. Against Marist on Feb. 13th he shot 63% from the floor and totaled 19 points.
Alejo Rodriquez, a fifth year senior, has battled through injuries during his notable career for the Gaels.
The 6' 8", 235 pound forward from New York, NY has started all but three games this year and is averaging 7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He has been in double figures scoring in eight games this year including 14 points at Liberty in Iona's bracketbuster win. He is shooting 69% from the floor. Amazingly, he has never taken a three point shot in a college game. Alejo has had double figure rebounds in seven games as well.
For his career Alejo has 193 rebounds, 6.1 per game, has scored 751 points for a 6.8 average, has 82 assists, 94 blocks, and 79 steals in 111 games before Sunday's action. He has started 80 games for the Gaels. He "Red-shirted" for the 2007-2008 season.
Rashon Dwight and Alejo Rodriquez have had a lot of input to the success Iona has had the past two seasons. The program was rebuilt during their tenure in New Rochelle into again one of the most competitive in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and one of the best programs in the New York City area.
Alejo Rodriquez continued to show strong energy in his game with an inside basket to start off the Fairfield game, then came back with another off of a feed from point guard Scott Machado,giving the Gaels a 14-10 lead at 12:27 left in the first. Alejo had 4 points and three rebounds in the first half.
Rashon Dwight had a super first half against Fairfield.
A jumper got the Gaels to a 4-0 lead. A layup at 8:58 gave the Gaels a 7 point lead at 8:58. Rashon added a couple of free throws moments later to extend the lead to ten points at 26-16.
After a jumper by Fairfield's Ryan Olander cut the lead to five at 27-22, Rashon made a jumper, followed by a Mike Glover dunk, and another inside basket by Rashon brought the Gael lead back to 11 at 33-22 at 1:47 left. Dwight made two more free throws to his total 12 points in the game to help the Gaels to a 36-25 half-time advantage over Fairfield.
Iona was spreading out the offense so that guards Scott Machado and Rashon Dwight would have room to cut for the basket inside.
Machado has emerged this season as one of the best point guards in the East. He has been leading, or close to, the top of the NCAA leaders in assists per game going into the Fairfield game with an average of 7.55 per game. Just a shade below the average of Aaron Johnson of UAB who has been averaging 7.59.
Junior guard Jermel Jenkins came in and made a three point shot at 8:23 to give the Gaels a ten point lead at 24-14. Jenkins has provided considerable depth for the Gaels at point guard and providing productive time in Tim Cluess' rotation with Rashon Dwight, and at times, Trinity Fields.
Iona will sometimes play a four guard offense with Kyle Smyth and freshman Sean Armand in the game.
The Iona cheerleaders perform excellent routines sometimes lifting each other into the air to cheer on the Gaels.
The Iona Dance Team works very hard to perform excellent routines at every Gaels home game.
Iona has earned a national reputation in cross-country over the past twenty years recruiting runners from Ireland and Africa.
The men's team has won the Metro Atlantic Conference Championship the past 20 consecutive seasons and participated in the NCAA Championships 13 times since 1997 finishing second in the nation in 2007 and 2008. In 2010 the team finished eight in the country at the NCAAs.
The Iona women's cross-country won the MAAC title for the sixth consecutive year.
At half time both teams were honored for their outstanding success.
This shows just how big junior Ryan Olander really is at 7' 0" compared to the Iona players. Ryan helped Fairfield mount a strong second half comeback finishing the game with 13 points in 28 minutes playing time.
Scott Machado made 7 of 8 free throw attempts in the second half when the game was decided at the foul line. Scott made four key free throws near the end of the game including two at 1:22 to play to give the Gaels a five point lead. The Iona point guard finished the game with 15 points and three assists.
With 11:13 left in the game and Iona holding a 15 point lead. Fairfield went on a 12-0 tear to close the game to 54-51 with 8:03 left. Freshman guard Jermel Fields scored ten of those points which included two consecutive three point shots. Fields was the leading scorer in the game with 21 points coming off the bench.
Mike Glover demonstrated his powerful inside game against Fairfield, finishing with ten points and 13 rebounds.
In the first half, his lay-up gave the Gaels a 19-13 lead at 9:32 left. Another lay-up at 2:11 left extended the lead to 34-22.
Sophomore small forward, and sometimes guard, Kyle Smyth, made two three point shots on the game as part of his nine points. Kyle is known for his defense, often putting his body in front of players cutting to the basket to try and draw charging calls.
With the score 70-68 and :35 seconds left, Kyle Smyth made two free throws to give the Gaels a crucial advantage. After a free throw by Lyndon Jordan of Fairfield, Iona's Trinity Field contributed a game ending layup to give Iona a 74-69 win.
Senior Alejo Rodriquez was very pleased to win the Senior Day game against conference leading Fairfield. Alejo finished with 8 points and 8 rebounds on the afternoon.
Fellow senior Rashon Dwight had a great Senior Day with twelve points before fouling out late in the game.
Both seniors dream of winning the MAAC Tournament and playing in the NCAAs.
On the day a poor 33% shooting performance by Fairfield in the first half did them in. Iona played solid offense and kept their composure when Fairfield made a strong second half challenge.
Their coach Ed Cooley said after the game he hopes to play Iona again in the MAAC Tournament in their building, in front of a sellout crowd of Fairfield fans.
First year coach Tim Cluess has guided the Gaels to a 20-10 mark and second place in the Metro Atlantic Conference. He has brought an uptempo style of play to New Rochelle which has the Gaels as the leading scoring team in the MAAC.
Tim came to Iona with 20 years of experience coaching at various levels of basketball on Long Island. The last four years he was the head coach of a very successful C.W. Post team in Brookville, NY.
After the game, coach Cluess commented about coaching in his first MAAC Tournament but cautioned, "It is a basketball tournament, I have been to a million of them."
Have to imagine playing for an NCAA bid will be exciting for all.
Iona will play Saturday night at the Metro Atlantic Tournament against the winner of the Friday night match-up of Niagara and Marist. If the seedings hold, they would play a semifinal game against Rider. A match with Fairifeld on their home court likely awaits. Don't count the Gaels out.
Iona has strong point guard play from Scott Machado and Jermel Jenkins.They have fine shooting from Rashon Dwight, Kyle Smyth and Sean Armand off the bench. Upfront Mike Glover is a force that opponents will often double team to try and stop This leaves opening for Alejo Rodriquez and Chris Pelcher off the bench to grab rebounds and put back shots for points.
Should be a very interesting and competitive MAAC Tournament in Bridgeport, CT.