Marist Comes Up Short Against Iona in Tight MAAC Opener

The Marist men’s basketball team lost a back and forth game against the Iona Gaels 78-71 on Wednesday night. The defeat means that the Red Foxes have failed to register a victory in their conference opener for the fourth consecutive year.

I thought we played well enough to win for 37 minutes. Down the stretch, we didn’t get enough stops and we were unable to tie up the rebound,” Marist head coach John Dunne said.

Iona got the scoring started with a layup from junior forward Quinn Slazinski. Marist followed that up with back-to-back baskets from graduate student center Jordan Jones and senior guard Rahiem Sullivan. 

One notable adjustment from the Red Foxes that was easy to spot in the first few possessions was a change of setup of the defensive end. After only playing man-to-man defense in the first five games of the season, Dunne had Marist come out in a 2-3 zone.

Nelly Junior Joseph, who came into the contest as the leading scorer for Iona with 15 points per game, got into some early foul trouble. The 6-foot-9 sophomore forward picked up his second foul at 14:18, spending the rest of the half on the bench.

Iona led for a majority of the first half, with Marist finding enough good looks at the basket in order to keep themselves within touching distance. 

After getting a stop on the defensive end, Marist had one final opportunity to close the deficit going into halftime. Jao Ituka got the ball on the right side of the floor, looking for a hole in the Gaels defense. The freshman guard found a driving lane and spun back towards the middle of the floor. Ituka finished right through the contact as the Red Fox faithful erupted. He finished the three-point play, sending the team into the locker room with plenty of momentum. 

Iona led by as much as nine in the opening twenty minutes, but Marist was able to withstand any run from the road team. The Gaels held a 42-35 lead at the break, with Slazinski and graduate student guard Tyson Jolly each scoring eight points. The leading scorer for the Red Foxes was Ituka 14 points on five-for-five shooting from the field and four-for-five shooting from the free-throw line.

The Gales came out of the break with the hotter hand, going on a 13-7 run to stretch their lead out to nine. Marist immediately came back with a 9-0 run of their own, including seven straight points from freshman guard Noah Harris.

A swing in momentum seems to come midway through the second half. With the Gaels leading by a score of 58-57, Marist turned up the intensity on the offensive end. The Red Foxes went on a 10-0 run over the next two minutes, holding a nine-point lead with 06:38 left in the second half.

Both sides would trade buckets for the next few minutes until another drastic shift occurred. With 02:41 left in the game, Marist held a 71-64 lead. The Gaels then proceeded to dominate on both ends of the floor, going on a 14-0 run over the final two minutes and change. Marist had plenty of opportunities to extend their lead down the stretch but was unable to do so.

Ituka led the way for the Red Foxes for the second straight game. The 6-foot-1 guard had a team-high 19 points on seven-for-11 shooting from the field. Ituka has now reached double figures in four games this season.

“Just got to come back Sunday and get a win. Simple as that,” Ituka said during the post-game press conference.

Sullivan also finished in double figures, scoring 14 points on six-for-12 shooting from the field. Samkelo Cele added 13 points on six-for-12 shooting from the field along with five rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes. 

Marist returns to play on Dec. 5th at 2 p.m. when they face the Rider Broncs at Alumni Gymnasium in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Marist is 25-38 all-time against Rider, including a five-game winning streak that stretched from 2006-2008. The Red Foxes won the last matchup between these teams, earning a 76-67 road victory on Jan. 23rd, 2021. 

Edited by Bridget Reilly

Photo Credit: Luke Sassa

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