WHITE PLAINS, NY - The Slam Dunk Tournament championship game at the Westchester County Center featured a rematch from a game from 2 weeks ago between Iona Prep and Spring Valley, two of Westchester's top teams.
In the last matchup, the Gaels won an up and down 72-66 contest. This one was a bit more of a grinder, but the Gaels once again were victorious, this time by a 56-46 score.
"Just the fact we best them the first time, we knew this would be a different game," were the words spoken by Gaels 6'6" junior wing man Matt Ryan. Iona Prep seemed to know that this would not be like the first time around.
"We knew they would come out stronger because they were angry. We knew we needed to play with an edge and not let up at all," Ty Jerome, the Gaels 6'1" sophomore point guard said.
They both nailed in on the head, and it was those two who paced the way from start to finish.
Spring Valley though got out to a quick start. While junior's Kai Mitchell and Manhattan bound Rickey McGill get most of the attention, it was junior center Jordan Duncan who was in control early on. He scored on a leaner inside, and then followed in a putback to give the Tigers the early 9-5 lead.
Defensively though, Spring Valley didn't seem to focus in on the sharpshooting Ryan in the early going. He was able to freely move around the perimeter, nailing 2 threes in the opening 8 minutes, finishing with 10 points overall in the quarter, which he admitted after the game surprised him a bit.
"They were yelling out where I was a lot but they didn't seem to press up on me much. It was a bit surprising," Ryan said.
Iona Prep took a 15-13 lead after 1, and early on in the 2nd, McGill picked up his 2nd foul. Tigers coach Willie Worsley took out his star guard briefly, but a small Gaels spurt forced him to put McGill back in. It did help Spring Valley's offense, and even though McGill was not having a great shooting night, his presence was clear.
The Tigers cut the deficit to 2 late in the half, but a pair of Jerome baskets, including a behind the back pull up jumper, helped give Iona Prep a 28-23 lead at the break.
While up 5 against a solid team would normally be a good thing at the half, Ryan said that in the locker room there was one thing that the staff specifically wanted them to do in the second half.
"We checked the stats at halftime and they had 7 offensive rebounds and we had 6. We know with Kai and Jordan that they score a lot of their points on 2nd chances so we wanted to make a conscious effort to keep them off the glass as much as possible," Ryan said about what he felt was key heading into the 3rd.
The 3rd quarter ended up being low scoring, with the perimeter shooting of Spring Valley really letting them down, and the missed buckets inside by Iona Prep also started to pile up.
The Gaels were still up by 3 after 3, but it was still anyone's game.
The big thing for Iona Prep was the fact every time they needed a shot, they were able to get it, Ryan hit a big three with 6:10 left from the left wing, his first made three since early in the 2nd quartet after Spring Valley changed up its defense towards him, and then the biggest shot of the game came with 2:52 to play.
Jerome made a nice entry pass inside, and then it was passed back out to him where he calmed sank a long three ball to make it a 6 point game, the largest of the game at that point for either team, and a real backbreaker for Spring Valley. Jerome knew the shot was big, but admitted not much thought went into it.
"I really didn't think too much about it. I got the ball inside and then it was kicked back out and I just let it fly," Jerome said about the key three.
The Tigers tried to shoot their way back into it, but McGill went 0 of 9 from three in the game, and the team overall was 0 for 13, not a winning recipe. Iona Prep hit their FT's late to close it out, and take down Spring Valley again, this time by a 56-46 final score.
Ryan led all scorers in the game with 22 points, along with grabbing 8 rebounds en route to being named tournament MVP. Jerome added 18 points as well for the winners.
In defeat the Tigers were paced by Duncan's 17 points and 10 rebounds. Mitchell added 9 points and 13 rebounds, with McGill being held to a season low 8 in the loss.
It's been a whirlwind week for Iona Prep. After the low of losing in blowout fashion to Molloy on Monday, to coming back and impressively winning the Slam Dunk. Ryan was happy to just put the Molloy loss behind him, and says one major positive has come out of the past two days for him, and the Gaels overall.
"In the past we have been known for giving up 4th quarter leads, but today against a really good team we held onto it when it got tough and that means a lot for us going forward."