NEW YORK -- Rutgers was up 22 points with 10 1-2 minutes to play. Eight grueling minutes later Iona had cut the lead to one. The Scarlet Knights managed to straightened things up and beat the Gaels 81-73 on Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival.
"We bent but we didn't break," a very relieved Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "I told them I knew they were coming at us and I'll give them the credit but we came up with big plays when we had to do."The biggest of the plays was a blocked shot by Wally Judge and that led to a driving basket by Myles Mack and the Scarlet Knights (5-2) were suddenly able to breathe a bit. Still, the Gaels (3-4) were able to get within two points two more times but Rutgers came up with a big play both times.When Iona closed within 70-69, the Scarlet Knights turned the ball over and Tavon Sledge drive in and Judge blocked the shot and Mack got the ball and drove to the basket and was fouled, but he missed the free throw."That block was unbelievable," Rice said. "Mack finished that play and then we made some free throws," Rice said.Mack scored 19 points, Mike Poole had a career-high 18 points and Dane Miller had 13 points and 13 rebounds for Rutgers (5-2), which won for the fifth time in six games.Rutgers took the 64-42 lead on a three-point play by Miller with 10:31 to play."I didn't think they would come back like that but we let them back in it," Mack said. "We played the way they do, sped up and got turnovers in transition."The turnovers were one thing that bothered Rice -- a lot."I thought we had tremendous resolve and purpose," Rice said. "I can't get over the 25 turnovers. That's getting in your own way. The evil Rutgers came out."Lamont Jones had 26 points for Iona, which lost for the third time in four games, while Sean Armand added 17 points. The Gaels shot 38.3 percent from the field (24 of 63). They shot just 27.6 percent in the first half (8 of 29)."They came out shooting the ball really well," Iona coach Tim Cluess said of Rutgers. "But I am really, really proud of my team for how hard they fought to get us back in the game. They could have laid down and died but they gave everything they could to get right back there."The Gaels closed within 70-69 on two free throws by A.J. English with 2:34 left. Iona was within 75-73 on two free throws by Jones with 57 seconds left.After a turnover by Rutgers, the Gaels had a possession that could have given them the lead but Jones missed on a wild drive.Eli Carter, for some reason, went down court and ignoring the shot clock went in on a drive. Miller was able to get the rebound and he made two free throws with 25 seconds to go and then added a dunk with 15 seconds left."I think every loss is hard, whether it's a 20-point loss or a close loss," Jones said. "We have to continue to come together as a team like we did in the second half and bring that for two halves. We'll be OK."The Scarlet Knights shot 48.4 percent from the field (30 of 62) and outrebounded Iona 47-29, including 17-9 on the offensive end."I'll give them credit," Rice said. "We were up 22. Their guys stepped up. That is a great offensive basketball team. We missed some layups playing at their pace without a strength or a purpose."Iona scored the first five points of the second half to get within 35-28. The Scarlet Knights answered with a 10-0 run that was started and ended by a 3-pointer by Mack and gave them a 45-28 lead with 16:20 to play.
Iona was 18-18 from the free throw line Saturday, and came into the game shooting 77.1 percent from the stripe, best in the MAAC and 13th in the country. Only two other teams have made more free throws without a miss this season.