ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Asante Gist had 22 points, Tajuan Agee added 18 and top-seeded Iona defeated Monmouth 81-60 on Monday night to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title for the fourth straight time.
Iona (17-15) is the first men’s team to win four straight league titles and has won 10 straight games heading into the NCAA Tournament.
The Gaels were the top seed for the 10th time and have won four of their 12 conference titles as the No. 1 seed. The top seed had not won the tournament since Siena in 2010, the longest drought of any conference in the country.
E.J. Crawford had 15 points, Ben Perez 14, and Rickey McGill 10 for Iona. McGill, the only player to be on four conference champions in league history, was named tournament MVP.
Monmouth (14-21), the sixth seed, was seeking its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2006 and first under coach King Rice, who took over in 2011. It was a rematch of the 2016 title game, which Iona won 79-76.
Trailing by six at the half, the Hawks pulled within 41-38 on Nick Rutherford’s 3-pointer with 17:20 left, but the Gaels responded with a 19-2 spurt keyed by the long ball to take control.
Gist, who was 5 of 9 from long range, hit a trio of 3-pointers and Crawford converted a three-point play and hit a spinning layup off the glass before adding a pair of free throws to give Iona a 60-40 lead with 12:41 left.
Leading scorer Ray Salnave hit his only basket of the game for Monmouth midway through the second half. By then the Hawks were trailing by 22. Diago Quinn led the Hawks with 13 points, the only player in double figures, while Deion Hammond had eight points and missed all seven 3-pointers he attempted.
Iona topped Siena in the semifinals Sunday and the Hawks defeated No. 2 Canisius 73-59 in the late semifinal. Siena was fatigued after its quarterfinal win over Rider late Saturday night while Iona had the day off as the top seed, and the Saints suffered from the outset. The Hawks were done in by the long ball as Iona finished 12 of 29 from behind the arc and allowed only 5 of 24 3-pointers.
Monmouth jumped to a 6-2 lead at the outset before the Gaels got untracked. Agee’s three-point play started a 15-0 Iona run and Rickey McGill’s pullup 3-pointer ended it and gave Iona a 17-6 lead less than five minutes in.
After Gist hit a 3 at the shot clock buzzer to keep the Gaels in front by double digits, the Hawks methodically pecked away at the lead.
Hammond hit a shot off the glass after a miss, followed by a fast-break layup, and Marcus McClary’s layup closed the gap to 33-30 in the final minute of the half.
Agee’s low-arcing 3 from the left wing gave Iona a 36-30 lead at the break. The Gaels held a 12-2 edge in points scored off turnovers.
The teams split the season series. Salnave’s basket with 1.1 seconds left gave the Hawks an 83-81 home win in late January as Iona’s Crawford was held to just seven points, only the second time he didn’t score in double figures this season. He had 20 points in a 103-84 win over the Hawks at home in the conference opener Jan 3.
Monmouth started the season with 12 straight losses before Rice figured a way to turn things around. The Hawks had won four straight entering Monday night’s game and a victory would have put Rice’s record at 132-132.
FREE THROW DROUGHT
Both teams were making an average of more than 15 free throws a game. In the first half, Monmouth was 1 of 2 and Iona hit its only one.
The Gaels hit 19 of 23 in the second while the Hawks finished 5 of 12 overall.
Monmouth’s Quinn set a school record by playing in his 135th game.
NEVER GETS OLD
Iona has made the title game six straight times under coach Tim Cluess, who was named MAAC coach of the year for the second time.
Monmouth: The Hawks showed some late-season spunk after their awful start to the season, which bodes well for next year.
Iona: The Gaels might lament that this was the last conference tournament in Albany for a while. They’re 20-2 in the Times Union Center over the past seven years. The MAAC is moving the tournament site to Atlantic City for the next three years.
NCAA Tournament bracket announcement on March 17.