BRONX, NY - Tuesday evening would be a statement game for the Iona Prep Gaels (3-1). Formerly a Class A school in the Catholic League, the recent Class AA addition would play against the CHSAA defending champion St. Raymond Ravens (2-1) and in a hard fought battle, take, them down in their house, 56-53.
"It was a very big win," said junior point guard Isaiah Ice. "Coming into the beginning of the season they had Iona at the bottom of the list so we came in here with a chip on our shoulder."
Both teams opened up tentative and cold until Kayvon Williams and 6'9" sophomore center Luis Santos put points on the board for the Ravens. Superior rebounding and a shot block by Santos and Iona Prep found themselves in a 6-0 hole.
"We knew that they like to do a lot of screen and rolls with the big man so we did a lot of hedging," said 6'4" sophomore Matt Ryan who was charged with the primary task of covering Santos.
Implementing continuity and patience in their offense, the Gaels crept back into the match as Shane Grogan (5 points) hit free-throws and Iona Prep slowed the pace of the game.
St. Rays would start the second quarter ahead but a three-ball from Ryan would quickly tie the game at 15 apiece. The momentum had shifted and a transition lay-up by Ice would finally give the Gaels their first lead with 6:06 left in the half.
The lead swayed back and forth but poor free-throw shooting by St. Raymond and baskets by senior guard Brandon Williams would send Iona Prep into the locker room at the half, ahead 26-21.
The Gaels would extend their lead early in the second quarter as Ice and spark plug Donald Niang provided much needed offense off the bench. "The shots were just coming to me," said Niang who dropped 16 points. "We play as a team," he said.
6:22 was left in the third and Iona Prep had amassed their largest lead at nine. Raven's head coach Jorge Lopez had seen enough and called a timeout. Re-motivated, Santos went into beast mode and sparked a 6-0 run to cut St. Ray's deficit to 3 points at the 5:12 mark.
B. Williams would try to rain on Ray's parade as he countered with back-to-back-to-back offensive rebounds followed by an and-1 basket but the Ravens seemed undettered. The Gaels limped into the fourth quarter with a mere 6 point lead; a lead that would vanish with 6:20 left to play as Ray's made another run
Turnovers by Iona Prep and a charging foul on Ice would make way for baskets by Santos and K. Williams and with 4 minutes left to play, the game was knotted at 47. Sharpshooter Shawn Jones who had and uncharacteristically poor perimeter game (0-8), did manage to get a key steal that would finally regain the lead for Ravens.
With 1:02 left in regulation, St. Rays had possession and still maintained a 1 point lead. It appeared as if the defending champs might do what defending champs often do but this season's team is young therefore inexperienced. A critical turnover by St. Raymond with 11.8 seconds would put an damper to that fairytale ending.
As time wound down, the Ravens would be forced to foul, eventually putting Ryan on the line. Although the sophomore labored from the perimeter for most of the game, he would calmly knock down free-throws for the win as time expired. "Coming off the loss against Xaverian, we knew we had to get a win," Ryan said. "I'm always confident going to the line."
B. Williams and Niang had 16 points apiece with Niang also confiscating 3 steals. Ryan scored 11 points while inhaling 6 rebounds and Ice contributed 10 points along with 5 assists. K. Williams scored a game high 24 points for the Ravens with Santos adding a double-double (16 points and 17 rebounds).