Men's basketball: Iona wakes up late to rally past Siena, but inconsistencies continue

NEW ROCHELLE – True to his blue-collar, Irish Catholic background, Tim Cluess usually offers short, direct evaluations of his team. However, after another maddening effort Thursday, the Iona coach responded with a nearly two-minute rant when asked why his Gaels remain so inconsistent.

“I think when you have no superstar type player that you will find there are a lot of ebbs and flows in the game on both sides of the ball,” Cluess said. ‘We have a lot of guys who are in the rotation who either didn’t play for us in the past or didn’t play major minutes and now are playing more minutes. Fitting those pieces together and getting consistency is something we’ve been struggling with.”

Of course, the rest of the MAAC only wishes it could struggle like Iona, which overcame a listless 30-plus minutes Thursday. The Gaels again picked up their energy late and rallied to a third straight league victory, beating Siena 71-69 in a rematch of last year‘s MAAC final.

Iona, now 10-7 and a league-best 4-1, trailed by as many as 12 points and was still down 62-52 with 7:05 to go. The Gaels responded with a 15-0 run to assume control of a game they once looked uninterested in winning.

“I was frustrated with our energy and effort,” Cluess said of the start. “I didn‘t think we played a lick of defense and I thought we were going through the motions.”

He and the players credited their improved effort on defense for fueling the final push. Iona placed more emphasis on stopping Ahsante Shivers and Jordan Horn, who combined for 25 points.

The sudden turnaround was reminiscent of last Friday‘s win over Saint Peter‘s when a four-minute closing run helped mask 36 uneven minutes.

“I don’t want to say it’s a good thing,” said junior forward Roland Griffin, who had 15 points and eight rebounds starting in place of E.J. Crawford, how is day-to-day with a leg injury. “We have to fix some things and turn that around, but we show resilience. We showed resilience these last couple games to come back, so that’s really good.”

The comeback included some flashback moments from redshirt junior Schadrac Casimir, who scored a game-high 17 points, including three 3-pointers and a conventional three-point play.

The one-time MAAC Rookie of the Year — whose form has been unpredictable since double-hip surgery in 2016 — reached double figures and played over 28 minutes for a third straight game.

“It‘s the first time since freshman year he‘s done that,” Cluess said. “Now I‘m hoping he can be a solid player for us the rest of the way and that will help us a lot.”

, Siena dropped to 5-13 and 1-4 in the MAAC and announced Wednesday that its most talented player, Nico Clareth, will transfer.

Casimir said Iona didn‘t underestimate the Saints despite their changed fortunes.

“We don’t really think of records,” he said. “Jimmy Patsos is a great coach and Siena is a great program. No matter what their record is, they’re liable to come out. Anyone can give us a good game. Anyone can lose on any given night. We can’t really overlook anybody.”

The Gaels, who have won three straight, will try not to at 1 p.m. Sunday when they conclude their four-game homestand with Rider.

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