iona ncaa tournament
Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Iona Gaels overcame COVID-19 issues just to make the NCAA Tournament this year, but that’s where their run ends.

All good runs must come to an end and the 2020-21 Iona Gaels are no different. Rick Pitino‘s first year in New Rochelle didn’t go as planned — COVID-19 pauses plagued the Gaels. They went on the longest one-time pause of any team in the country, going nearly two months between games at one point.

The fact that Iona was able to win the MAC Championship and make the NCAA Tournament is an accomplishment in and of itself. Credit to Iona for hanging tough with No. 2 Alabama in the first round, but the Crimson Tide had too much firepower for Pitino’s squad to handle. Iona fell 68-55 to Alabama.

Despite the loss, Pitino figured out how to make Bama work for this win. Iona slowed the game down to their pace as Isaiah Ross and Asante Gist carried the scoring load. Pitino turned to sophomore walk-on Parker Weiss for a spark in the first half and it worked. He missed the only shot he took, but he provided a burst of energy to help fuel an Iona run.

The Gaels were down seven points with a few minutes to play, but Alabama ultimately pulled away for the win. New Jersey native Jahvon Quinerly had 11 points off the bench for Alabama.

Pitino gets high marks for his debut season in Iona. Amidst all the drama of a pandemic season, the Hall of Fame coach overachieved with a MAC Championship. Ultimately, the next step for Iona is winning a game in the NCAA Tournament, but this was a great start to the Pitino era in New Rochelle.

Expect the approach to change for the Gaels in the coming years. In the past, Pitino-led teams have always played an up-tempo style with a ton of threes. They were forced to play a grind-it-out style due to personnel and circumstances.

As Pitino recruits more of his guys — and has a full offseason — the Gaels will resemble the classic mold of a Rick Pitino team. But no matter what the style of play looks like, it’s safe to say Iona is trending in the right direction.

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