Newark, N.J. —The 2020-21 season looks quite different without Myles Powell and Quincy McKnight in the line up. But this year’s team aren’t going to rest on last year laurels.
Iona shot 65.2% (15-23) from the field and 70% (7-10) from beyond the arc which kept the Pirates at bay in the first half.
In Rick Pitino debut. Pitino was hired by Iona in March to replace Tim Cluess, who resigned due to health concerns. Pitino was fired by Louisville in 2017 in pay-for-play scandal and had been coaching over in Greece for the Panathinaikos who won the championship in the Greek League in 2019.
Pitino won a national championships at Louisville (2013) and Kentucky (1996) and also went to the Final Four with Providence in 1987. He coached twice in the NBA, with the New York Knicks (1987-89) and with the Celtics (1997-2001), where he was also team president.
The Gaels kept it close in the first half but Jared Rhoden had a career-high 26 points 10 rebounds as Seton Hall beat Iona 86-64 on Monday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Rhoden put the Pirates on his back in the second half hitting key shots on the perimeter.
Sandro Mamukelashvili had 18 points and seven rebounds for Seton Hall (1-1). Myles Cale chipped in 15 points. Tyrese Samuel had 12 points.
“You’re talking about a Hall of Fame coach,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, Pitino’s assistant at Louisville and with the Celtics, said over Zoom. “I wasn’t shocked we were down nine.
“They’re exactly what I thought they were going to be. They’re extremely well-coached, they play hard and they are going to win a lot of games because, in my opinion, he’s the greatest college coach ever.”
Isaiah Ross scored 23 points for Iona (0-1). Nelly Joseph chipped in 13 points. Ryan Myers had nine points with two assists.
The turning point in the game, Seton Hall was able to setup their half court offense got 48 points in the paint compare to 30 from the Gaels down low in the second half.
The Gaels was trying to pull off a upset in Rick Pitino’s return to college basketball. The Pirates made some match up changes and stayed the course in the second half.
The Gaels played the Pirates tough in the first 25 minutes of the contest. Iona had SHU down by nine points late in the first half. Iona pushed the tempo in the first half and took a 37-35 lead going into the break.
Pitino, who spent the last two years coaching professionally in Greece, called Willard to schedule this game on Saturday, he knew he was going to be a real test for his young team. Playing a game was more important after a little layoff.
“I’m not pissed off that I lost, because I love Kevin,” Pitino kidded. “If Kevin wasn’t the coach, I’d probably want to go out and drink a quart of scotch.
“It was excellent for us. Getting them in Madison Square Garden next year will even be better,” he added, referring to the return game the teams have agreed to play next year.
Iona have some bright spots despite the loss, even without starting point guard Asante Gist and 7-foot-1 freshman forward Osborn Shema. Freshman Nelly Junior Joseph showed potential, scoring 13 points, six rebounds and two swipes.
“I thought our defensive intensity was great in the first half. If we would’ve played the same type of defense in the second half, we had a chance to win the game,” Pitino said. “Overall, it was terrific. We are going to be a really good basketball team.”
Pitino has talked about wanting to turn Iona into the Gonzaga of the East, but he has also stressed patience after a limited offseason due to COVID-19 protocols and an almost completely new and extremely young team.
He has insisted that Iona be will be his last coaching job after a Hall of Fame career that includes two national championships, Final Four berths with three different schools and a 647-272 all-time record.
“I’m super-excited to be back,” Pitino said. “I thank the president almost once or twice a week for giving me this opportunity to coach at Iona. I think it’s a special little campus, a special little place.
“I feel we’re going to make it big time.”