Friday night’s MAAC matchup between Canisius and Iona was expected to be an exciting affair with two of the conference’s most exciting guards in Canisius’ Billy Baron and Iona’s Sean Armand taking center stage. The top two scoring teams in MAAC conference games entering Friday, neither team’s had trouble putting points on the board and that was the case on Friday night.
Two Baron free throws with 14 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as Canisius picked up a valuable 85-83 road victory, moving into a first-place tie with preseason MAAC favorite Manhattan. Baron finished with a game-high 29 points, making ten of his 17 attempts from the field with a few of those baskets being three-pointers beyond NBA range. With Baron rolling Canisius was able to build a 20-point lead in the second half, and that’s when an Iona team not exactly filled with defensive stoppers flipped a switch so to speak.
Iona went smaller, taking forward David Laury III out of the game, and used their improved quickness (and effort) to keep Baron from comfortably initiating the offense. While Canisius does have Stetson transfer Chris Perez as another capable guard when it comes to running the show, he doesn’t command the same respect as Baron from a scoring standpoint. Iona ripped off a 16-0 run to get back into the game, ultimately taking its first lead of the second half on an A.J. English three-pointer with 7:38 remaining.
Armand led four Gaels in double figures with 19 points, and Isaiah Williams’ 17 points off the bench were a welcome boost for the home team. Tim Cluess’ team should be commended for coming back in a game that very well could have gotten out of hand. But with an eye towards the possibility of winning the MAAC and making a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, it’s more important to ask why they ended up in that 20-point hole to begin with.
The reason: inconsistent effort on the defensive end of the floor, and that’s a concern for Canisius as well. Both teams clearly have the offensive firepower to beat the majority of the teams remaining on their schedule, but if either is to win a championship and reach the NCAA tournament they have to get better defensively. Iona entered the game ranked seventh in the MAAC (conference games only) in field goal percentage defense and Canisius was tenth.
And that’s essentially how things played out in New Rochelle, with the Golden Griffins shooting 52% from the field and Iona not far behind at 48%. While it certainly made for an entertaining two hours of basketball, a win on January 17 isn’t the ultimate goal for either team. In order to reach that goal, there’s work to be done defensively.