Alabama Eliminates Rick Pitino, Iona from 2021 NCAA Tournament with 68-55 Win

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2021

Alabama forward Herbert Jones (1) gets a basket on a dunk over Iona guard Berrick JeanLouis (0) in the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

No. 2 Alabama avoided a first-round setback with a 68-55 win over No. 15 Iona on Saturday.

Herbert Jones scored 20 for the Crimson Tide to kick off their run in the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament. The SEC regular-season and conference tournament winners are seeking their first Sweet 16 since 2004.

There was some concern for the favorites after a wild Friday that saw Oral Roberts become the ninth No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 with a win over Ohio State. Iona head coach Rick Pitino also made the Gaels a popular sleeper pick with a resume that includes seven Final Fours and championships with both Kentucky and Louisville.

Iona trailed by just one point at halftime and was still within one possession with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. Isaiah Ross had 19 points for the Gaels to stay within striking distance nearly the entire day.

Poor outside shooting from Alabama also kept things close, but the favorite made enough shots to stay ahead, while a 42-26 rebounding advantage played a major role.

It helped the Crimson Tide evade disaster to remain a dangerous team going forward.


Notable Performances

Herbert Jones, F, ALA: 20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals

Jahvon Quinerly, G, ALA: 11 points, 2 assists

John Petty Jr., G, ALA: 10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks

Isaiah Ross, G, IONA: 19 points, 5 rebounds

Asante Gist, G, IONA: 16 points, 2 assists

Nelly Junior Joseph, F, IONA: 6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks


Alabama Overcomes Poor Outside Shooting to Pull Away

Alabama's best offensive players forgot how to shoot at the worst time.

Leading scorer Jaden Shackelford couldn't get much going from the perimeter, and John Petty Jr. was even worse:

Ryan Brown @RyanBrownWJOX

Petty has dented the rim on half his shots. Complete funk.

The two combined to shoot 1-of-7 from three in the first half while finishing 2-of-10 for the game. It was part of the overall shooting issues for the Tide, who went more than 20 minutes of game time without a three on the way to 5-of-16 from beyond the arc.

The only starter who could do anything offensively was Jones, who succeeded by attacking the basket:

CBS Sports @CBSSports

The give-and-go has worked forever and will continue to work forever. https://t.co/GZVvhC1qXY

CBS Sports @CBSSports

ROLLIN TO THE RACK https://t.co/OwDSRblnqG

The SEC Player of the Year was huge on both ends, filling up the stat sheet as he has all year.

Of course, the true difference was the bench, as Jahvon Quinerly and Alex Reese stepped up with huge shots in the second half.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Bama locking in now 🔒 https://t.co/DrTdODRkWG

Joe Rexrode @joerexrode

Alex Reese has changed this game.

Adam Rittenberg @ESPNRittenberg

#RollTide with a nice surge on both ends, forcing a Rick Pitino timeout. Tide on a 10-1 run as Iona goes cold from 3-point range. Jahvon Quinerly starting to emerge for Bama.

Jeff Borzello @jeffborzello

Quinerly bringing a different dimension to Alabama this half. Iona having a ton of trouble keeping him in front.

Offensive balance has been a theme for Alabama this season, and it was vital Saturday as different players were able to step up when needed.

Steve Edelson @steveedelsonapp

MAAC leading scorer Isaiah Ross looked like the best plaery on the court in the first half. Iona down to second-seed Alabama by a point at haltime.

If the shooting returns to form in later rounds, the Crimson Tide can go a long way.


Iona Falls Short of Upset Bid Despite 1st-Half Surge

Despite being the heavy underdog, it was clear Iona was not going down without a fight.

Alabama built an eight-point lead with under two minutes left in the half, but Ross keyed a 7-0 run to cut the margin down to one and take the momentum into halftime.

CBS Sports @CBSSports

Talk about a momentum changer. https://t.co/a5meGo4Kiq

Steve Edelson @steveedelsonapp

MAAC leading scorer Isaiah Ross looked like the best plaery on the court in the first half. Iona down to second-seed Alabama by a point at haltime.

Ross had 15 in the first half to give the No. 2 seed everything they could handle.

Pitino loomed large on the bench, both with the confidence he brought the team as well as his specific coaching maneuvers:

Dan Wolken @DanWolken

That’s a super impressive half from Iona. I think Alabama is gonna be fine but drawing a Rick Pitino coached team in this situation is almost unfair.

John Chandler @JohnChandlerNBC

Iona closes out 1st half strong and trails Alabama by 1 at the break. Rick Pitino can coach a little.

Pete Thamel @PeteThamel

Fascinating wrinkle by Rick Pitino, putting in lightly used Parker Weiss to essentially take charges for Iona. He played a season high 8 minutes in first half and was Plus 10. He hadn’t played more than 4 minutes in a game all year.

It was simply too difficult to keep up with the more talented team over the course of 40 minutes.

The Gaels were held to 23 points in the second half while Ross scored just four, preventing another dramatic March Madness moment.


What's Next?

Alabama will advance to the second round Monday to face the winner of No. 7 Connecticut and No. 10 Maryland.