MAAC, MAAC Tournament, Iona
(Courtesy of MAAC)

Iona defeats Fairfield to win 5th straight MAAC Tournament

Iona came into Saturday's MAAC Men's Basketball Championship game looking for its fifth straight MAAC Tournament crown. Legendary first-year coach Rick Pitino went into the game going for yet another conference tournament championship to add to his already distinguished resume. Fairfield came into Saturday's game just looking for another upset in what has been a magical week for the Stags.

Led by Asante Gist's 18 points, Iona defeated Fairfield 60-51 to win the 2021 MAAC Men's Basketball Championship in Atlantic City on Saturday.

As was typical during the tournament, Fairfield started slow, shooting just 4-of-18 from the first half field. Iona was swarming on defense as the Stags as Fairfield couldn't get off high percentage shots. Down 17-10, five quick points from Taj Benning pulled the Stags to within two. Asante Gist answered with a three-pointer as both teams started getting hot shooting the ball.

Towards the end of the first half, Fairfield started to show the wear of their run through the MAAC Tournament as they ended the half on a 4:08 scoring drought that included three turnovers. The Gaels, on the other hand, finished the half on a 10-0 run as they went into the locker room leading 30-18. Gist led Iona with 11 points in the opening half.

Throughout the week, the second half has been when Fairfield awakened, and Saturday was no different. A 10-2 run cut the Iona lead to 32-28 with 15:08 remaining in the second half. Iona answered with a run of their own capped by a Gist's three-pointer to extend the Gael lead out to 11 points.

For the remainder of the half, Iona kept the pressure on Fairfield on both ends of the court to win their fifth consecutive MAAC Tournament crown and 13th in school history. Rick Pitino becomes only the third coach to take five different teams to the NCAA Tournament.

"For them to win four games coming out of COVID pause and to do these things is remarkable to me," Pitino said after the game. "We're excited to be in the tournament. We haven't played that many games this year, and we're getting better with each game that we play."

Fairfield, who defeated Monmouth (No. 1 seed) and Saint Peter's (No. 3 seed) to advance to the title game, was led by Jake Wojcik, who finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.

"We showed a lot of character coming in as a seventh seed," said Fairfield senior Taj Benning, who finished with 11 points. "We put all that aside, and we fought. I think a lot of people counted us out, and we proved some people wrong. We really fought and it shows to the toughness of our coaching staff and the toughness of everybody that we have in the locker room. I think that's what I'll remember the most. How much we fought to get here."

Iona now awaits their seed for the 2021 NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis. According to Joe Lunardi's most recent Bracketology prediction at press time, the Gaels are set as a 15 seed.

2021 MAAC Men’s Basketball All-Championship Team

Asante Gist (MVP, Iona)

Raheem Solomon (Niagara)

KC Ndefo (Saint Peter’s)

Jake Wojcik (Fairfield)

Taj Benning (Fairfield)

Berrick Jeanlouis (Iona)

Isaiah Ross (Iona)

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