Advertisement

Three takeaways from Iona basketball's win over Saint Peter's

NEW ROCHELLE - Iona opened 2023 on a high note, ushering in the new year with a wire-to-wire win over Saint Peter's, 73-55.

Plenty of faces and names have changed since Saint Peter's emerged as last season's March Madness darling and enjoyed a historic run to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, but Iona continued its streak of success over the Peacocks.

They swept them in last year's regular season series and will attempt to do the same this year, when they meet again on Feb. 19. With the win, Iona improved to 10-4 overall and 3-0 in MAAC play.

Iona: Pitino, Masiello team up as Iona starts off 2022-23 season on high note

Pitino: Rick Pitino is saying after avoiding NCAA punishment in Louisville recruiting scandal

Last home game: Iona picks up key non-conference win over Saint Louis

The Gaels hardly looked back after pushing their lead to double figures. They took a 42-30 lead at the break and later extended the margin to as high as 21 points.

Iona's Walter Clayton Jr. (1) assesses the court during the Gaels' 73-55 win over Saint Peter's on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2022 at the Hynes Athletic Center.
Iona's Walter Clayton Jr. (1) assesses the court during the Gaels' 73-55 win over Saint Peter's on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2022 at the Hynes Athletic Center.

Walter Clayton Jr. had a team-high 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, with five boards and two steals. Nelly Junior Joseph had a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double, which included three assists, four blocks and a steal. Osborn Shema added 14 points and five boards. Daniss Jenkins had nine points, nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks and a steal.

"Saint Peter's is an aggressive team, so be more aggressive," Clayton said. "They're going to get in you, foul you, so we just needed to be more aggressive."

For Saint Peter's, Isiah Dasher had a game-high 19 points. Jayden Saddler chipped in nine points and five rebounds off the bench.

Here are three takeaways from the win:

Iona experiments with lineups amid key injuries

Iona's Cruz Davis made his first career start against Saint Peter's on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2022. The Gaels won, 73-55.
Iona's Cruz Davis made his first career start against Saint Peter's on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2022. The Gaels won, 73-55.

Iona's starting five has been a game of musical chairs for nearly a month, ever since Quinn Slazinski went down with an ankle injury after a strong showing in the Gaels' first two games of the season.

Slazinski reappeared in Iona's road trip to New Mexico and in the Diamond Head Classic, but was out of the starting five once again and did not play in Sunday's game.

He wasn't the only casualty during Iona's three-and-a-half-week stretch away from home, as Berrick JeanLouis sustained an injury against SMU on Dec. 22 and hasn't played.

"Quinn is probably going to be a season-type injury, where we play one day, rest one day," Iona coach Rick Pitino said. "He's shut down now probably for a week, probably will miss next weekend. Berrick should be back soon, I thought he'd be back by now actually."

Since then, the Gaels have added Osborn Shema, Silas Sunday, Sadiku Ibine Ayo, and now, Cruz Davis. Shema has gotten most of the starting nods with his improved play, but the newest injury has added room for others to get an opportunity.

On Sunday, Davis made his first crack at the starting five, after Ibine Ayo started the final two games of the Diamond Head Classic.

"Berrick's out and they go small, so it's more matchups than it is Cruz Davis," Pitino said of the decision to start Davis against the Peacocks.

Iona's bench, while brimming with young players with potential, had 11 points on Sunday. The Gaels didn't register any bench points until an Anton Brookshire three with 10:25 remaining in the game.

"Bench is a little weak right now, teams like Siena, Rider, have a very deep bench and we don't right now," Pitino said. "We just gotta be smart, do the right things defensively and develop the guys that don't play very much."

Pitino believes team's ceiling can be higher

The Iona Gaels defeated the Saint Peter's Peacocks in MAAC play on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2022 at the Hynes Athletic Center.
The Iona Gaels defeated the Saint Peter's Peacocks in MAAC play on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2022 at the Hynes Athletic Center.

With stops at New Mexico and Hawaii, plus a couple of chaotic travel delays, in less than a two-week span, Iona got the jetlag out in time for its Sunday showdown.

"We had two or three of the worst practices of the season, because I was well aware of what goes on when you come back from Hawaii, it just takes a lot out of you," Pitino said. "You can double that because of Las Vegas and New Mexico, but we responded with a very good game, especially on the offensive end."

Iona has now beaten all three of its MAAC opponents so far by 18 or more points, but Pitino isn't satisfied yet.

"We're an average to good team, we're trying to become a great team," Pitino said. "We're not as good as we were last year at this point, because our injuries have taken a toll on us, but I think we have the potential. Last year's team stayed (consistent), they were veterans, they stayed very good. This team is way below that, but they have a chance to get (even higher than them.)"

Standout big Junior Joseph expanding his game

Nelly Junior Joseph had a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double in the win against Saint Peter's on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2022.
Nelly Junior Joseph had a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double in the win against Saint Peter's on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2022.

The 6-foot-9 forward continued his streak of red-hot performances. After posting four-straight 20-point games, he fell short of the mark, but tallied another double-double, his second consecutive and fifth overall this season.

"Nelly has definitely gotten a lot better," Pitino said. "We have cut off Nelly's right arm in practice. All the drills, he has to use his left hand, and it's paid huge dividiends for us doing that. ... He's playing great basketball right now, at every phase of the game, and he's really maturing into a very good basketball player."

He entered Sunday averaging 15.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Against Saint Peter's, he earned most of his points from the free throw line, where he went 10-for-14.

"We practice hard all the time, so I have to play hard all the time," Junior Joseph said. "I feel like I'm still struggling to make my free throws, but I also feel like I'm getting better at shooting free throws."

Follow Eugene Rapay on Twitter at @erapay5 and on Instagram at @byeugenerapay

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Iona basketball takes down Saint Peter's: Three takeaways