NEW YORK, NY - Trailing by 22 points with 10:32 to play, the Iona College men's basketball team got within a single point but could not complete an epic comeback effort in an 81-73 defeat to Rutgers at the ECAC/MSG Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. Senior Lamont Jones scored a game-high 26 points and was a perfect 14-of-14 from the free throw line in the loss.
Jones shot just 6-of-17 from the field and had a team-high three assists. Junior Sean Armand added 17 points and seven rebounds to go along with two assists and two steals. Senior Curtis Dennis added 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting from long range. Freshman A.J. English netted a season-best eight points and hit two clutch free throws down the stretch. Senior Nyandigisi Moikobu made his season debut and had six points off the bench.
The two teams matched each other on the scoreboard through the first 13 minutes of the contest. A Jones floater at 7:17 gave Iona a 16-15 advantage. Rutgers scored seven straight points and took the lead for good. The 7-0 run stretched to 19-2 as the Scarlet Knights led 34-18 with 2:45 to play in the half. Iona trailed 35-23 at the break after two Jones free thee throws with just under a minute to go.
After the Gaels scored five straight to open the second stanza, Rutgers quickly answered with 10 straight of their own to pen up a 45-28 lead with 16:38 to play. Jones cut the deficit to 11 with a layup less than two minutes later but again, five straight Scarlet Knight points made the lead 16. After an Armand three pointer at 12:36, Rutgers scored nine of the next 11 points to lead 64-42 with 10:32 to play. The deficit was just second largest faced by a Tim Cluess led Iona team since taking over the reins three seasons ago.
The Gaels slowly chipped away and a 27-6 run over the next eight minutes made the score 70-69 with 2:35 to play. It was two English free throws that got the Gaels two within a point. After forcing a turnover, the Gaels had a chance to go ahead. A transition alley oop attempt by 5-9 sophomore Tavon Sledge was negated by a huge block from 6-9 center Wally Judge. Rutgers turned around and got a transition layup of their own to go ahead by three with 1:41 on the clock.
Two key turnovers down the stretch for the Gaels proved their undoing as Rutgers was able to score the game’s final six points to come away with the 81-73 victory.
Iona improved its shooting percentage for the game to 38.1% after a dismal 27.7 in the first half. The Gaels were a perfect 18-of-18 from the line in the contest. Rutgers shot 48.4% in the win. Rutgers had a huge 47-29 advantage on the boards and was able to withstand 25 turnovers.
The Scarlet Knights were led by 19 points and seven rebounds by Myles Mack, 18 points and seven boards by Mike Poole off the bench and a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double from Dane Miller.
Iona is back in action in a week when they travel to the SEC's Georgia next Saturday (Dec. 15).