Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels became the first team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s history to beat an AP top-10 team after upsetting No. 10 Alabama 72-68 on Thursday night.
Nelly Junior Joseph and Walter Clayton Jr. made key free throws in the final seconds to lift Iona in the opening-round game at the ESPN Events Invitational.
Clayton got an offensive rebound and made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 70-68 with 20 seconds left. After Jahvon Quinerly missed a shot for Alabama, Joseph secured the win with two free throws with 9 seconds remaining.
MAAC teams are now 1-119 in games against an AP top-10 squad. Pitino has now defeated a top-10 team at four different schools (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville, Iona).
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“I’m happy for the guys,” Pitino said. “They are great guys to coach. I’m really, really excited, happy for them.”
Tyson Jolly had 13 points, Elijah Joiner 12 and Quinn Slazinski 11 for Iona (6-0). Alabama (4-1) got 19 points from Jaden Shackelford. Quinerly added 15.
“It was one of our first goals, and we accomplished it,” Jolly said. “Our goal was to start the year 6-0 and we did that tonight.”
Joiner hit a 3 to put Iona up 69-65, but Shackelford connected from long range to make it a one-point game with 56 seconds to go.
Joseph made two free throws during an 11-3 run to give Iona a 59-57 advantage. Alabama’s Darius Miles responded with a layup, but Jolly made a 3 to put Iona back ahead 62-59 at the 4-minute mark. Shackelford’s 3 put Alabama ahead 54-48.
Iona won despite a 4 ½-minute stretch early in the second half without a field goal. Alabama was up 33-29 at the half, which matched the biggest lead during the opening 20 minutes.
Pitino thought a key for Iona was to limit Alabama’s 3-point production. The Crimson Tide made just four in 12 tries.
“If we could limit them from a large number of 3s, I felt we had a shot,” Pitino said. Alabama entered averaging 10.8 3-pointers a game.
The win serves as revenge for the Gaels, who lost to Alabama in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament.
Iona will play in a semifinal Friday against Belmont while Alabama drops into the consolation round to take on Drake.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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