NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — In late January, Iona was just 10-9 and didn’t seem to be on the verge of a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
But the Gaels then got hot, winning 12 of their next 13 en route to winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament title and locking up their first trip to the Dance since 2013.
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Iona coach Tim Cluess told WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Monday his team was not only beset by injuries early in the season, but his healthy players needed time to adjust to their changing roles.
“Guys had to learn offensively and defensively what their roles and rotations were. … I think as they did that, they also bought into playing defense much harder and much tougher and knew that was the way we were going to have to try to win games,” Cluess said.
The 13th-seeded Gaels (22-10) will face fourth-seeded Iowa State at 2 p.m. Eastern on Thursday in Denver.
Both teams are known for their quick-paced offenses. The Cyclones are ranked 15th in the nation in scoring with 81.8 points per game, while Iona is 31st with 79.6.
“It could be a really exciting game because of how both teams do play,” Cluess said. “They really can score the ball, and they probably have one of the best offensive teams in the country, so it’ll be challenging.”
When asked about Iowa State (21-11), Cluess was quick to mention forward Georges Niang, who leads the team with 19.8 points per game.
Niang “really makes everything go for them. He’s probably a 6-9, 230-pound guy who can go inside, outside, handles the ball. He’s just a great, great passer. A teriffic feel for the game,” Cluess said. “They have numerous guys who can knock down shots. They shoot over 50 percent from the field for the year. Just very talented.”
Iona is led by senior guard A.J. English, who is ranked 10th in the nation in scoring with 22.4 points per game.