SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – During the regular season Canisius did as good a job as anyone of containing Iona’s Damika Martinez. She didn’t go off against them as she did versus so many other MAAC teams. In one meeting she didn’t even make it to double figures.
But there’s good reason why Martinez, a sophomore guard, received the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year award on Thursday night at the Basketball Hall of Fame. And the reason was evident on Friday morning, when she dumped a career-high 36 points on the Griffs and powered Iona to a 76-58 victory in the MAAC Tournament quarterfinals at the MassMutual Center.
Canisius, the No. 7 seed, finished the season 12-19 and graduates two senior starters, including all-conference guard Ashley Durham. Second-seeded Iona (19-11) moves on to today’s semifinals. The young Gaels could evolve into a team that eventually challenges Marist’s decade-long MAAC supremacy.
Martinez scored 14 in the first half and basically put the game away by scoring eight of Iona’s first 10 points after intermission. That burst opened a 47-34 advantage and the Griffs never made a serious move thereafter.
“I think we wanted to put them away so we had to get out there early and put them away, put them in their place, so they didn’t think they had a chance to beat us,” Martinez said.
Durham found the going rough during a first half in which Iona built a 37-27 advantage. She made just 1 of 8 shots and scored three points, a steep decline from her 25-point regular-season average against the Gaels. She finished with 10.
Injuries magnified Canisius’ challenge. Guard Kayla Hoohuli, a top perimeter defender, rolled her ankle early in the first half and played just 10 minutes. Starting point guard Tiahana Mills missed the last three regular-season games with a bad ankle sprain. She tried to play on Friday, but managed only five minutes. Their absences heightened the challenge facing Durham.
“She’s got to play differently because we have the ball in her hands earlier and I don’t like it in her hands earlier in the offense. I like it in her hands later on,” said Canisius coach Terry Zeh. “So now some of our other guards are put in positions to do some things they haven’t done all year.”
“It’s definitely hard when your point guard is injured and other people like Kayla are hurt,” said junior forward Jamie Ruttle, who had a team-high 13 points.
Iona set the tone early behind Martinez and MAAC Rookie of the Year Joy Adams.
Martinez neared her per-game average of 17.6 with a 14-point half while Adams, a 5-foot-9 forward, repeatedly punished the Griffs on the inside. She had 10 points and nine rebounds in the half and finished the game with 15 points and 18 boards.
Canisius started out well enough, grabbing an early lead on the strength of two Ruttle baskets, but Iona soon asserted its command. A 7-0 burst made it 21-11 near the halfway mark. The Griffs trimmed that deficit down to three on a Jen Morabito three near the six-minute mark but again Iona retaliated, launching a 12-3 burst that included three baskets by Martinez.
Iona shot 51.7 percent for the game, with Martinez going 14 of 23 from the field and 6 of 9 from long distance. Canisius shot just 33.3 percent (23 of 69).