Rick Pitino, Unranked Iona Upset No. 10 Alabama; 1st MAAC Team to Beat a Top 10 Team

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVNovember 26, 2021

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 25: Iona Gaels guard Elijah Joiner (2) celebrates as Alabama Crimson Tide guard Keon Ellis (14) reacts to Iona taking the lead in the 2nd half of the ESPN Events Invitational college basketball game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Iona Gaels on November 25, 2021 at the HP Field House in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hiring legendary coach Rick Pitino is paying big dividends on the court for Iona.

The Gaels upset No. 10 Alabama 72-68 on Thursday, becoming the first MAAC program to earn a win over a team in the Top 10 of the Associated Press poll, per ESPN.com. The conference had been 0-119.

Alabama held a slim 33-29 lead at halftime and didn't trail until Nelly Junior Joseph hit a pair of free throws for Iona with 5:34 left in the game. Elijah Joiner put the Gaels ahead 69-65 with a three-pointer at the 1:17 mark, only for Jaden Shackelford to connect from long range on the other end.

The Crimson Tide had an opportunity to at least tie the game inside the final 20 seconds, but Berrick JeanLouis blocked a Jahvon Quinerly layup attempt. Joseph collected the defensive rebound and hit a pair of free throws to seal the win.

Five Iona players scored in double figures. Joseph had a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds), and Walter Clayton Jr. chipped in with 15 points off the bench.

Shackelford had a game-high 19 points but shot just 6-of-17 from the field. He hauled in 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.

Pitino wasn't jettisoned by Louisville in 2017 because of the Cardinals' results. He later admitted he "deserved to be fired" as the program was ensnared in the FBI's investigation into corruption in college basketball.

It looked like that might be the end for the 69-year-old as a college basketball coach.

But Pitino guided Iona to a 12-6 record and an NCAA tournament berth in 2020-21. In his second year, the Gaels are 6-0 with a ranked win under their belt.

Aaron Torres @Aaron_Torres

Btw, at some point some high major AD is gonna bite the bullet, deal with one week of bad PR and hire Pitino. And they're going to look damn smart for doing it. <br><br>With the portal I think he could turn just about any high major into a tourney team by Year 2

Sam Vecenie @Sam_Vecenie

Strongly believe Alabama is going to be right there at the end of the season in the SEC, and Rick Pitino and Iona just beat them with tough defense and by cutting off the 3-point line. Say whatever about Pitino, but the guy is brilliant as a basketball mind.

Should Iona play its way back into the Big Dance, the Hall of Fame coach might put himself on the radar of a prominent school looking to fill a vacancy on the sideline.