Rick Pitino's Iona Squad Punches Ticket to March Madness


In his first year back in college basketball, coach Rick Pitino is returning to the NCAA tournament after Iona defeated Fairfield 60–51 to win the MAAC championship. This is the fifth conference championship in a row for the Gaels.

Iona was led by senior Asante Gist with 18 points and freshman Nelly Junior Joseph registered a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Fairfield's leading scorer was junior Jake Wojcik with 13 points but the team only shot 30.2% from the field while Iona shot 44%

On their way to the conference championship, No. 9 Iona upset No. 1 Siena, defeated No. 5 Niagara and No. 8 Quinnipiac. The Gaels faced their fair share of turbulence through the season as well. 

Iona finished 11-5 after they were unable to compete in their last five games of the regular season due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program and subsequently didn't have enough players to compete due to protocols. Before that, they suffered an NCAA-record 51-day layoff due to COVID-19.

During that layoff, nine players, two coaches and two managers all tested positive. Coach Pitino tested positive but has since recovered. 

Pitino hadn't coached college basketball since 2017 after he resigned from Louisville amid a pay-for-play scandal where he was forced out of the program. After the scandal, he coached Panathinaikos, a basketball team in Greece, before returning to the states.

 He was named head coach at Iona in March 2020 after Tim Cluess stepped down and now has the Gaels right where they want to be—with a conference championship the day before Selection Sunday