Iona fades away after strong first half: ‘They gained all the momentum’ -

ALBANY — The first 20 minutes Friday were just as Rick Pitino drew them up.

Iona shot the ball well and held Connecticut star Jordan Hawkins scoreless.

The Gaels were ahead, quieting the pro-Huskies crowd.

The only problem was, there was 20 minutes left. It was more than enough time for fourth-seeded UConn to find its game.

Once it did, the Gaels were toast.

Hawkins and Adama Sanogo took over after halftime, sending No. 13 Iona home, 87-63, in a West Region first-round game at MVP Arena.

Iona led by two at halftime, but that lead evaporated fast.

Hawkins produced a four-point play on UConn’s first possession of the second half and the Huskies reeled off 17 of the first 21 points after the break to take command.

The Gaels never got closer than eight after that, and remained winless in their NCAA Tournament history.

Walter Clayton Jr. walks to the bench during the second half of Iona's 87-63 loss to UConn.
Walter Clayton Jr. walks to the bench during the second half of Iona’s 87-63 loss to UConn.
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“Coming out of the half, they just came out more aggressive,” Iona guard Walter Clayton Jr. said. “They gained all the momentum and we could never get it back.”

It was the story of two halves. Iona (27-8) shot 48 percent in the first half and 25 percent in the second half.

The Gaels held Hawkins and Sanogo to six points in the first half and gave up 38 to them in the second half.

They were the more aggressive team in the first 20 minutes and were on their heels for the final 20. It was 50-24, Huskies, after the break.

“The first half was just about as well as we played all year, but the second half was about as poor as we’ve played, but that’s due to Connecticut’s defense and offense,” Iona coach Rick Pitino said after what may have been his last game at the university. “They’ve got all the metrics to win a national championship.”

Clayton led Iona with 15 points and Daniss Jenkins had 14 for the Gaels, who were crushed on the glass, 45-29, and doubled up in points in the paint, 26-13.

The loss ended a memorable season. Iona entered the tournament having won 14 straight games after winning the MAAC regular-season crown.

It also equaled the school’s most wins in a single season since 1997-98, and did so despite a number of injuries to key players.

“They gave me everything they could give me,” Pitino said.

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