iona maac tournament
Mandatory Credit: Adam Monacelli/Courier-Post via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Iona jumped out to an early lead against Niagara and never relinquished it. The Gaels are now one game away from the NCAA Tournament.

Iona rises and Niagara falls. It’s one of the most overused clichés in March, but the Gaels are getting hot at the right time. Although Rick Pitino‘s squad let Niagara make it interesting in their MAAC Tournament semifinals game, Iona ultimately pulled out the win 70-64.

After multiple COVID pauses during the regular season, Iona’s readiness was a question mark entering the MAAC Tournament. After shelling Quinnipiac by 24, edging out Siena by three, and now beating Niagara by six, it’s clear that the Gaels are playing their best basketball of the year.

With that said, things aren’t perfect for Pitino and Iona. They jumped out to a 24-point lead at one point but allowed Niagara to claw their way back into the game. Still, Iona won the game to advance to the MAAC Championship Game and that’s the bottom line.

Pitino needs to figure out how to get Isaiah Ross going again. He was crucial down the stretch against Siena, but the MAAC leading scorer was completely out of whack against the Purple Eagles. Ross was held to just one field goal and four points.

The Gaels were spurred on by the supporting cast of Dylan van Eyck, Berrick JeanLouis, Nelly Junior Joseph, and Asante Gist. Those four combined for 55 of Iona’s 70 points.

Iona will await the winner of Saint Peter’s and Fairfield. The MAAC Tournament Championship is set to take place on Saturday on ESPNU (4 p.m. ET).

The winner will punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Iona has made the Big Dance in four consecutive chances. The 2020 MAAC Tournament and NCAA Tournament were both canceled due to COVID-19.

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