OLEAN – Iona has a pedestrian record — one that suggests a long, drawn-out winter for the Gaels — yet the way they played Monday at St. Bonaventure is an indication of good things to come.
The defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season champions, put on a torrid shooting display and pounded the Bonnies, 93-74, Monday afternoon in front of 3,472 at the Reilly Center. The Gaels (6-6) drilled 13 of 27 three-pointers, including 10 of 16 in final 20 minutes to gain separation from the Bonnies (7-5).
St. Bonaventure, playing for the first time since a Dec. 22 loss at North Carolina State, suffered its worst home defeat since Feb. 13 against Richmond (68-49), and Iona scored the most points against the Bonnies at home since Saint Joseph’s tallied 98 on Jan. 10, 2009.
“They played their ‘A' game and we played our ‘C' game, and that’s what happens,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “We missed a lot of layups early and that fed into their offensive game, and it got us down a little bit and we didn’t defend the way we needed to defend.”
Certainly not on Sean Armand, who came into the game ranked seventh in the country in three-pointers made. He whistled in a game-high 27 points on 7 of 14 from downtown. The Bonnies also had trouble keeping up with Lamont Jones, the nation’s fifth-leading scorer, who dropped in 23 including 3 of 5 from long range. There were others who helped in the blowout.
Taaj Ridley and David Laury each had 13 points and A.J. English scored 11, all the second half when the Gaels knocked down 8 of their first 10 threes. The 6-foot-8 Laury, who couldn’t play in the first semester because of NCAA eligibility regulations, averaged 20.7 points in his first three games this season. Iona lacked a quality big man but now that Laury will draw attention away from the Gaels shooters, Jones, Armand and the others will get more clean looks like they did against St. Bonaventure. Having a player with Laury’s skill set could mean a shot at another MAAC title.
Of course, Iona’s bread and butter is its three-point shooting as the Gaels rank No. 1 nationally in attempts per game (26.0) and second in three-pointers made per game (9.4).
“I think lately we’ve been working a lot on shooting and coach [Tim Cluess] has been putting a lot of emphasis on getting our shot back and I think everybody has taken heed to it,” Jones said. “They make it mandatory that we get our shots up every day and it’s paying off.”
It certainly did against the Bonnies, who played without Matthew Wright. The junior guard suffered a foot injury during the team’s walk-through on Sunday. Wright dressed for the game but Schmidt said the foot was too sore for him to play. Also, Chris Johnson, the team’s leading scorer at 13.7 points a game, played 24 minutes off the bench but was just 3 of 12 from the floor and finished with nine points. Johnson played with a sore back but Schmidt kept him out of the starting lineup because he missed a practice after being delayed returning from a day off because of the weather.
The only player who got going offensively was Demitrius Conger with a season-high 26 points, one off his career high, to go with eight rebounds and two blocks. He was the only Bonnies player in double figures.
St. Bonaventure trailed, 40-31, at the half but enjoyed a quick start to the second half and trimmed Iona’s lead to two after a basket by Marquise Simmons. Soon after, the Gaels percolated.
Jones hit a trey to give Iona a 50-42 lead and after a layup by Ridley, Laury followed with a basket and added a pair of free throws. Then Armand hit a three. Then another. He finally missed one but English connected on one. Then Armand again. Then English. English and Laury scored two-pointers and Armand hit a long three-pointer.
Iona led, 78-58, and the damage was done.
“It’s tough for the simple fact they hit so many threes … the score said it all,” Conger said. “It’s just something we have to come back to practice the next day and work on.”
Said Schmidt: “It’s like anything — once you make a couple, the rim gets bigger.”
As did the Bonnies’ deficit.