After taking the lead Iona to one NCAA Tournament appeared in his first season back in college basketball, Rick Pitino is just building that momentum to start his second season. Pitino’s Gaels knocks out 10th place Alabama 72-68 on Thursday during the ESPN Events Invitational. The win marks Pitino’s first win against a team from a major conference since he took the lead Louisville won 71-64 in the final game of the 2016-17 season and there’s nothing confusing about that.
Iona won despite making just four of 21 attempts from three points as the Gaels improved to 6-0 by overtaking the Crimson Tide 43-35 in the second half. Five players doubled for Pitino’s team, led by 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks by Joseph Nelly.
Joseph was last season’s third-highest scorer for Team Iona, finishing 12-6 and earning the 15th seed in Big Dance for the MAAC Tournament title. Ironically, the Gaels took on Alabama in their first-round NCAA Tournament game, losing 68-55 after a 33-32 lead at halftime.
Pitino only seems to have upgraded its roster since then. With SMU switch protection Tyson Jolly and Tulsa switch protection Elijah Joiner Now on the team, Pitino has two seniors in his backyard who have been unfazed by Alabama’s quality defenders. Pitino’s national selection ability was also evident, as real freshman Walter Clayton Jr added 15 points from the bench. Clayton is a coveted football prospect who turned down power conference options on the grid to play basketball for Pitino in the northeast.
The victory of a passionate celebration in the Gaels’ dressing room was led by Pitino’s grandson.
Alabama (4-1) leads 19 points from Jaden Shackelford and 15 words Jahvon Quinerly. Iona played sixth in the semi-final against either Belmont or drake, while Alabama will play the loser. Loss to Alabama eliminates the possibility of a top 10 match between Crimson Tide and No. 3 Kansas in the championship game of the event.