ALBANY, N.Y. – Roland Griffin scored a career-high 29 points, Zach Lewis added 20, and Iona beat Fairfield 83-71 on Monday night to capture the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament title for the third straight time and earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Iona (20-13), the fourth seed, extended its league record to 11 tournament titles. Fairfield (17-16), the sixth seed, had won seven straight games and was seeking its fourth title.
Iona’s path to its sixth straight MAAC championship game was made much easier when the top three top seeds – Rider, Canisius, and Niagara – were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
It was the first time since 2002 that the top three failed to make the semifinals, and the Gaels took advantage. They edged Saint Peter’s 65-62 in the semifinals, never gaining the lead until three minutes remained. Fairfield beat Quinnipiac 74-64 in the other semifinal behind 21 points and 11 rebounds from Ferron Flavors Jr. and 19 points from Tyler Nelson.
Iona and Fairfield split during the regular season, each winning at home, but the Stags struggled a lot in this one, especially inside against a team that had finished the regular season on the skids, losing three of their final four games before coming alive in the tournament.
Griffin had 17 points in the first half and Lewis 13 as Iona took advantage of sloppy play by the Stags, scoring 10 points off their 10 turnovers. Nelson was the lone Fairfield player in double figures with 17 as the Stags trailed 43-37 at the break.
Iona stormed out in the second half and built the lead to double digits with a 7-1 flurry, a 3 from the left corner by Rickey McGill boosting the margin to 50-38 at 17:04.
After Flavors briefly stopped the surge with a 3, Griffin scored four points and McGill hit an open 3 from the top of the key to make it 57-41 and the Stags were reeling. A fallaway 3-pointer by Deyshonee Much gave the Gaels a commanding 64-44 lead midway through the second half.
Nelson hit his sixth 3 of the game with 5:25 to go to cut the lead to 11 and give Fairfield a glimmer of hope.
A layup by Jonathan Kasibabu completed a 10-4 run that narrowed the gap to 75-69 with a minute left, but the Gaels sank four free throws in the final seconds.
Nelson led Fairfield with 25 points, and Jesus Cruz and Wassef Methnani each had 14.
Lewis was named tournament MVP.
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