A.J. English rises to occasion for Iona against Manhattan

RIVERDALE, N.Y. — As the seconds ticked off the clock, A.J. English had his sights set on two things. Neither was the rim.

Iona was tied at 65 with rival Manhattan Friday night, and 45 seconds left became 40 and then 35. The fluorescent lights lining Draddy Gym’s ceiling bounced off the hardwood floor as resounding chants of “Defense!” emanated from the capacity crowd of 2,520.

English had not scored in more than 11 minutes. He scanned the floor for Schadrac Casimir, a freshman guard who passed his initiation into the rivalry with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Casimir wasn’t free. Manhattan switches every pick late in games, and the 6-foot-9 David Laury screened for English to create a mismatch. English couldn’t find an angle to feed Laury in the post against Manhattan point guard Rashawn Stores.

English had been in other high-leverage situations this year.

With just a few ticks left, he calmly sank two free throws to beat Niagara, 80-79, on Jan. 16. Two weeks later, he had the presence of mind to hit Kelvin Amayo for an overtime-forcing layup in a win over Saint Peter’s rather than shoot a triple-teamed 3-pointer.

But this was different.

This was a chance to stake Iona’s maroon and gold flag at center court and declare a new territory 9.3 miles away from home in New Rochelle. This was at Manhattan, the rival that upset Iona in the 2014 MAAC championship.

“Coach [Tim Cluess] just looked at me and told me to go,” said English, who ranks 17th nationally with 19.7 points per game.

So with the 6-foot-10 Ashton Pankey guarding him off the switch and 18 NBA scouts taking notes, the 6-foot-4 English let one fly from well beyond the 3-point line with 30 seconds left. He dropped his arms to his sides, and the ball splashed through the net as he strutted down court with points 20, 21 and 22 for the night.

The Jaspers still had life, but Iona prevailed with a 70-67 victory, its 47th win in 86 tries against Manhattan.

“He made a terrific shot,” Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said. “It’s kind of one of those plays where when you look at it statistically that shot shouldn’t beat you, and it did tonight. It’s a switch with a [6-foot-10] guy switching out. Almost 70 percent of the time on pick-and-rolls with a 1-5 switch, the 1 is going to shoot a challenged jump shot, which he shot. And he made it. Give him credit.”

The win was Iona’s 20th this year — Cluess became the first head coach to hit that mark five times at Iona — and solidified the Gaels (20-6, 13-2) as a virtual lock for the MAAC regular season title. Rider (17-9, 11-4), which dropped both bouts with Iona, trails in second place by two games with five left.

“It’s great,” Cluess said when asked about getting win No. 20 by beating Manhattan.

It was well-earned.

The Jaspers were resilient and battled back from two double-digit deficits. Iona just always had an answer, and it was frequently Casimir.

Nine seconds after Emmy Andujar capped a 14-3 Manhattan run and evened the score at 26 with two foul shots, Casimir sank a 3-pointer. He drove on Iona’s next possession and finished a nifty scoop. Then he buried a trey with a minute remaining in the half to send Iona into the break with a 37-30 lead.

In the second half, Shane Richards’ 3-pointer with 9:16 left gave Manhattan a 52-51 lead, its first of the game. Draddy erupted.

While Manhattan fans were still high-fiving, Casimir snatched back the lead with another 3-pointer. Iona did not trail again.

“They had hit a huge shot, and they’d either get back in the game or take the lead,” Cluess said, “and here comes [Casimir] to answer it. As the crowd was starting to erupt, he quieted it again. I think those were huge, that we had answers, because if we didn’t have the answer right then, the game might have turned in the other direction.”

That direction would have been a statement win for the Jaspers (12-12, 9-6), whose record conceals a hot streak of 10 wins in 14 games carried into Friday night’s clash. But Manhattan still made a statement of sorts.

“We just played Iona to the wire,” Andujar said. “It just shows that we’re right there. It just comes down to one or two plays.”

English made the one that mattered most.

David Laury, A.J. English to integrate new Iona players to Manhattan rivalry

David Laury was so upset by his missed 3-pointer at the buzzer of last season’s MAAC championship against Manhattan that he spent the offseason improving his jumper.

That burden fueled him. The loss to his school’s historic rival stung.

When he and Iona get their next shot at Manhattan tonight in Riverdale, he and A.J. English will be the only two Gaels who played a minute in that final. Isaiah Williams is hurt, and the others either graduated or transferred.

“This will be [everyone else’s] first time in that environment,” Cluess said. “That’s going to be interesting to us to see how they handle that environment.”

The Gaels have played in venues far bigger than Draddy Gym this year, taking trips to Wake Forest, Arkansas and UMass. Nothing can simulate a packed Draddy, though. Not when Iona is visiting.

Cluess said he’ll rely on Laury and English to share the sting of last year’s loss with their teammates.

“Everything we do starts with them,” Cluess said. “They’re the leaders of the team. They’re the best players on the team. They’re the ones who set the tone in the game on both ends of the court and in the locker room and preparation.”

Not having Williams — sidelined after surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot — hurts. He’s Iona’s No. 4 scorer and best defender. But in eight games without him, Iona is 7-1. The only loss was to Canisius, with one day to gameplan without Williams.

Defense and depth have been Iona’s weaknesses, but the Williams injury has required other players to gain experience and produce.

Kelvin Amayo, whose dunk over Marist’s Chavaughn Lewis made SportsCenter’s Top 10 last weekend, has emerged as a No. 4 scorer behind Laury, English and Schadrac Casimir. He has reached double figures four times since Williams got hurt, and he averaged 15.3 points in Iona’s last three games.

“That’s been huge for us,” Cluess said.

Ryden Hines, Ibn Muhammad, Vangelis Bebis and Jeylani Dublin have also given the Gaels a solid boost.

“All four of them at different times have given us a lift in different games,” Cluess said. “For us to be successful, we have to have those other guys have good nights. Now if they play well, we have a chance. If they don’t, reality is we’re going to be in trouble in those games. Thankfully guys have improved and gotten better and figured things out and are playing at a higher level right now.”

In a way, Iona’s resiliency on this micro level is emblematic of the program’s ability to never skip a beat from year to year under Cluess.

After making the NCAA tournament as an at-large team in 2011-12, Cluess had to replace Scott Machado and Michael Glover. That’s one of the country’s best point guards and his leading scorer. Iona won the 2013 MAAC championship. Then Cluess had to replace top scorer Momo Jones, and Iona won the regular-season title.

The Gaels are the best team in the MAAC and, once again, graduated their leader — Sean Armand — in the spring.

“I just think it says so much when you lose a guy or you graduate kids and your teams don’t skip a beat,” Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said, “and I think Iona has done that year after year after year. That’s a credit to Tim.”

But how will these new Gaels fare in their first trip to Draddy? Cluess hopes the three games at high-profile schools helped prepare his team.

For now, though, he’s just looking forward to the latest installment of one of college basketball’s best rivalries.

“I’m just excited,” Cluess said. “It’s a great conference rivalry. It’s a rivalry that goes on for many many years. It’s fun to be a part of. It’s fun to be a part of an exciting night of basketball coming up.”

For live updates from tonight’s game, follow Ari Kramer on Twitter.

Manhattan vs. Iona: 10 best games of last 10 years

Manhattan and Iona are separated by 9.1 miles, a 17-minute drive from one gym to the other. They have one of the best rivalries in college basketball.

As the Gaels take a 46-39 all-time advantage into this year’s first meeting with the Jaspers, let’s take a look at the 10 best games Iona and Manhattan have played over the last 10 years.

Games were evaluated based on stakes, finishes and how good both teams were.

10. Thriller at the Mecca

Date: Jan. 30, 2008

Score: Iona 62, Manhattan 60

Location: Madison Square Garden

The Gaels did basically everything they could do to blow a 13-point lead in the last six minutes, going ice cold from the field. Their only two points in that stretch came on a De’Shaune Griffin jumper with 1:53 left. Their three possessions after that, leading to the final horn: turnover, turnover, missed front end. Manhattan had two chances to tie the game on the final possession, but Rashad Green’s last-second jumper missed.

9. Give the ball to Rico

Date: Jan. 22, 2010

Score: Iona 56, Manhattan 53

Location: Draddy Gym

Iona was on its way up, in the last year of the Kevin Willard era, and Manhattan was en route to yet another sub-.500 year under Barry Rohrssen. Nonetheless, this one came down to the wire, with Manhattan losing by way of a classic Rohrssen coaching move: give the ball to Rico.

Rico, of course, was Alabama/Miami Dade CC transfer Rico Pickett, an enigmatic, ball-stopping talent. As he did in so many late-game scenarios that one season with Pickett, Rohrssen handed the ball to his star and basically said, “Do something.” It rarely worked.

This time, Jermel Jenkins stripped Pickett with just a few seconds left, and Kyle Smyth sank a pair of free throws for the final margin.

8. The timeout

Date: Jan. 15, 2005

Score: Iona 69, Manhattan 67

Location: Draddy Gym

Peter Mulligan did so much right during his time at Manhattan, but he made a Chris Webber-like gaffe in this one, calling for timeout with 36 seconds left and the Jaspers having none available.

Steve Burtt converted the two free throws to break a tie at 67, and the Jaspers missed three 3-pointers in the last 20 seconds.

Iona overcame a 13-point deficit in the last 8:21.

7. The Jenkins winner

Date: Feb. 4, 2005

Score: Iona 55, Manhattan 53

Location: Mulcahy Center

Greg Jenkins was the last-second hero, as Iona swept its 2005 series with Manhattan. After Jeff Xavier tied the game at 53 with 35 seconds left, the Gaels had an opportunity to hold for the last shot. Steve Burtt missed a layup, but Jenkins corralled it and laid it in with 0.4 seconds left.

The winner was a shining moment in Jenkins’ nice senior year for the Gaels.

This stands as Iona’s only buzzer-beating win over Manhattan in the last 10 years.

6. Emmy saves the day, Pt. 3

Date: Feb. 28, 2014

Score: Manhattan 80, Iona 77 OT

Location: Draddy Gym

The Gaels had locked up the MAAC regular season title a night earlier, with Quinnipiac’s loss to Siena, but they showed no signs of complacency. Less than eight minutes after tip, Iona had a 20-13 lead and looked like it would shoot the Jaspers down to the No. 4 seed for the MAAC tournament.

Then Manhattan began to pick apart Iona’s defense, scoring 32 points in the last 12 minutes to take a 45-35 lead into the break. But this wouldn’t have been a Manhattan-Iona game if the Gaels rolled over. Tre Bowman had a chance to break a tie on a layup with nine seconds left in regulation, but Emmy Andujar swatted it, corralled it and then missed his tough potential winner at the horn.

Andujar scored five of Manhattan’s nine points in the extra period, as the Jaspers held on for the win.

5. Emmy saves the day, Pt. 2

Date: Feb. 15, 2013

Score: Manhattan 74, Iona 73 2OT

Location: Draddy Gym

Manhattan had hit its groove two weeks earlier, finally adjusting to life without George Beamon — who redshirted the season with an ankle injury — and came in hoping to avenge a recent loss to the Gaels. It nearly didn’t happen.

The Jaspers held Iona scoreless for the last 3:22 of regulation, and Andujar forced overtime with a layup with 42 seconds left.

At the end of the second overtime, Mike Alvarado missed a free throw that would have tied the game at 73 with 11 seconds left. Rhamel Brown gathered the offensive board, his 17th rebound of the night, and the Jaspers worked the ball to Andujar, who drove left and finished the winner with four seconds remaining.

4. Emmy saves the day, Pt. 1

Date: Jan. 12, 2012

Score: Manhattan 75, Iona 72

Location: Hynes Athletics Center

Steve Masiello’s head coaching debut in the rivalry included a 17-point comeback and a wild, buzzer-beating shot.

The Jaspers trailed an Iona team that would eventually earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament 65-48 with 7:58 remaining. Then Manhattan caught fire, and six minutes later, an Alvarado layup tied the game at 69.

Brown, of all people, buried two free throws with eight seconds left to give Manhattan a 72-70 lead, but Momo Jones raced up court and answered. His falling jumper in the lane tied the game with a shade more than three seconds on the clock.

The Jaspers got the ball to halfcourt and called timeout with 1.3 seconds left, allowing Masiello to design a play from the left side that would get Brown the ball near the rim. With Taaj Ridley leaping and waving his arms frantically, Alvarado, the inbounder, couldn’t get the ball to Brown. George Beamon, the next option, couldn’t free himself as he curled around the left wing. Kidani Brutus ran around aimlessly near halfcourt to clear room in the middle. That left Andujar as the only option.

The then-freshman caught Alvarado’s inbounds pass on the right wing with his back to the basket. In one motion, he turned, rose and banked in the winner as the horn sounded.

3. An all-time regular-season finale

Date: Feb. 26, 2006

Score: Manhattan 78, Iona 74

Location: Draddy Gym

For a while, this game stood as the greatest bout between Manhattan and Iona, a winner-take-all clash for the regular-season title and the all-important double-bye in the MAAC tournament.

It included a brawl. It featured two comebacks. After the Jaspers completed the latter one and sealed the win, an Iona student somehow managed to rip off a piece of the Draddy bleachers, chucking it in disgust as Manhattan fans rushed the floor.

Steve Burtt blew kisses to the crowd after his transition 3-pointer with 6:05 left gave Iona a 67-60 lead, but Jason Wingate led Manhattan on an 18-7 run to close the game. Manhattan’s lefty point guard started the spurt with a 3-pointer, gave the Jaspers a 72-70 lead with a layup and sank all four of his free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the victory.

Iona got the last laugh, though, as Keekee Clark and Saint Peter’s upset the Jaspers in the semis before falling to the Gaels in the championship.

2. A first for everything

Date: March 11, 2013

Score: Iona 60, Manhattan 57

Location: MassMutual Center (Springfield, Mass.)

Iona put an end to Manhattan’s timely hot streak — the Jaspers had won eight of 10 entering the first MAAC championship meeting between the two rivals — but it wasn’t easy, as Masiello’s bunch kept the pace and score in their favor.

The Gaels hadn’t been held to an output lower than 62 all year. The eighth-fastest-paced team in the nation at 71.1 possessions per game, they had played 65 or fewer possessions just three times. Manhattan’s high-pressure defense made them uncomfortable, resulting in a 60-possession game, the slowest 40 minutes Iona had played all year.

And the Jaspers were also doing just enough offensively. With 14:52 remaining, they led 35-30, thanks to a Shane Richards 3-pointer.

But then Iona found an offensive rhythm. The Gaels went on a 17-2 run over the next six-plus minutes, and Manhattan wouldn’t cut the gap to four until Brown hit two free throws with 1:24 left. Tre Bowman scored 14 points in the last 14 minutes, and David Laury’s emphatic slam with six seconds left sealed Iona’s first championship since 2006.

This one ranks below the 2014 championship because the slim final margin was aided by an Iona technical, after players prematurely left the bench in celebration when another Richards 3-pointer fell through with one-tenth of a second remaining.

1. Manhattan’s senior sendoff

Date: March 10, 2014

Score: Manhattan 71, Iona 68

Location: MassMutual Center

With a talented senior class, the Jaspers hadn’t had as good of a chance of making the NCAA tournament since 2006, when they lost to Saint Peter’s in the MAAC semifinals. Of course Iona stood in the way. Again.

And, again, Iona used a run to take control after Manhattan scored its 35th point. This time, however, the Jaspers would squelch the spurt earlier, ending the 11-0 spurt and pulling within 38-37 on a Brown layup with 15:35 remaining.

Manhattan opened a 64-54 lead with 6:19 left, but Iona came back and cut the gap to two with 26 seconds left and again nine seconds later. After Donovan Kates went 1-for-2 at the stripe to give Manhattan a 71-68 lead, Iona had one more chance. The Jaspers took away Sean Armand and A.J. English, leaving Laury wide open from the right wing. His 3-point bid hit the backboard and then the rim, but it bounced off and sent Manhattan dancing for the first time since 2004.

For live updates from tonight’s game, follow Ari Kramer on Twitter.

Iona’s Ryden Hines comes in one variety: Alaskan

Ryden on his backyard basketball court in Anchorage. Courtesy Photo / Ryden Hines
Ryden on his backyard basketball court in Anchorage. Courtesy Photo / Ryden Hines

There’s a section of rubber tiles in the Hines family’s backyard called “Mario’s Spot.”

It’s about 20 feet from a basketball hoop, shaded slightly to the right of the rim and set against the backdrop of the Chugach Mountains. The mudflat shores of Cook Inlet are two miles away. Spectators are rare, save for the occasional moose, rabbit or goose observing from the sideline, a patch of grass that gives way to a thin grove of trees separating properties.

Mario is Mario Chalmers, and Ryden Hines and his friends spent many a summer day at that spot imitating “Mario’s Miracle,” the desperation 3-pointer that capped Kansas University’s comeback and forced overtime against Memphis in the 2008 NCAA championship.

Hines, like every teenaged Alaskan basketball player his age, idolized Chalmers. Super Mario was a beacon of hope, a living, breathing, championship-winning reminder that hoopsters could emerge from The Last Frontier’s remoteness and thrive on basketball’s biggest stage.

“Everybody thought Mario was the best Alaskan ever,” Ryden’s mother, Lisa, says, “and he is and was.”

Hines was a freshman at Dimond High School in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city and his and Chalmers’ hometown, the fall after Kansas won the 2008 championship. He was a burgeoning star in basketball and football, and had already begun setting his sights on Division I.

While his peers in the Lower 48 began drawing interest from schools around that time, Hines toiled under the muted beam of the Northern Lights. He played AAU ball for the Alaska Flight, which ventured into western U.S. summer tournaments, but nobody paid the exorbitant airfare — $494 is the cheapest roundtrip from Seattle even 10 months from now — to scout him at Dimond.

Not even Iona, where Hines is emerging as a role-playing 6-foot-8 sophomore.

They all missed out on seeing Hines in his natural habitat.

“I was always outdoors,” Hines says. “I was fishing, hunting. I lived for the outdoors. I was never inside. I miss it.”

Hines waded into shallow Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage and caught his first fish, a silver salmon, when he was in second grade. “I remember I felt something pulling on my line, and my legs started shaking,” Hines says. “I was like, ‘oh, my god, dad, I got a fish!” Remembers Brion, his father: “Seeing a 6-year-old kid trying to haul in a 15-pound salmon is pretty funny.”

Hines hunted and trapped small game. Goose meat, he says, tastes just like chicken breast. He also hiked regularly, and brown bears, black bears and wolves were common sightings along the trails. “I was pretty protective of the kids,” Brion, says. “If they ever went [hiking], make sure somebody goes with a gun.”

“It’s not even close,” Hines says. “A grizzly bear would tear me to pieces.”

Ryden looks up at a stuffed Grizzly Bear in an Anchorage restaurant. Courtesy Photo / Ryden Hines
Ryden looks up at a stuffed grizzly bear in an Anchorage restaurant. Courtesy Photo / Ryden Hines

Years ago, Lisa’s father bought 10 acres of land in Talkeetna, a small town about 2.5 hours north of Anchorage at the confluence of the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna rivers. He constructed a couple of cabins to share with his children’s families.

Ryden makes the drive with his parents and younger sisters Lauren and Victoria whenever time permits.

“We go there, hang out, go hunting, go fishing,” Brion says. “It’s got a well. No running water, though. You’ve got to go pump the water. You can go snow-machining.”

You can also see Mount McKinley, not even 80 miles away from the base town for Denali expeditions.

“It’s beautiful,” Brion says.

Alaska’s pure beauty was the impetus behind Brion abandoning his Dallas landscaping business in 1985. He was 25 years old and paid a holiday-season visit to his father, a retired military veteran who had settled in Anchorage. “I ended up loving it and staying,” he says. A few years later he met Lisa, an Alaskan native whose grandfather had retired in the Last Frontier after being sent there by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“The biggest reason [we’ve stayed] is because we like the lifestyle and the beauty,” Lisa says.

Hines says teammates, especially A.J. English and Isaiah Williams, marvel at his stories of growing up gutting fish and four-wheeling along the rugged terrain. “They want to come home with me,” Hines says.

“Oh my gosh,” Lisa says, “I wish we could have them all there, like last year’s team and this year’s team and all his friends. It would be so wonderful because until you’ve really been there and experienced it, you don’t really know what Alaska is.”

Most of his teammates are from the Northeast. By 9 p.m. on a summer’s eve, they don’t see more than the glowing remnants of the day’s sunset.

Summer days in the Land of the Midnight Sun are seemingly endless. In 2014, the sun peeked its head over the Chugach Mountains at 4:21 a.m. on June 21 and set at 11:42 p.m., giving Anchoragites 19 hours and 21 minutes of daylight. “You need sunglasses at midnight sometimes,” says Brion, who admits his neighbors have scolded him for mowing his lawn late at night. Even at the end of August, the sun did not settle beneath the horizon until after 9 p.m.

“It’s called Alaska Exhaustion,” Lisa says, “because you really do try to cram so much time into the day and you don’t really know what time it is.”

For children, that means extra hours of playtime. For parents, it adds an entirely new element to the former Fox catchphrase, “It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your children are?”

“You literally have to put watches on your kids’ wrists so they know what time it is,” Lisa says. “Not like with iPhones now, where you can set the alarm, but no, all the kids had to wear watches so they knew what time to come home.”

Sometimes Hines would lose track of time fishing, sailing, flying or playing sports.

“Because of that we had a basketball court put in our backyard,” Lisa says, the logic being she could keep an eye on her son. If he weren’t home at a reasonable hour, he would be shooting hoops, imitating Chalmers and improving his game in the backyard.

Ryden with friend Brock Crowe after catching King Salmon in Ship Creek. Courtesy Photo / Ryden Hines
Ryden with friend Brock Crowe after catching King Salmon in Ship Creek. Courtesy Photo / Ryden Hines

Hines grew five inches in the five months between Chalmers’ heroics and his first year under Rob Galosich’s tutelage at Dimond. He was already tall, but he sprouted into a 6-foot-4-inch freshman.

“One day he came into the kitchen,” Lisa says, “and I used to kind of just visually figure out how tall he was next to the cabinets and all of a sudden he was taller than the kitchen cabinets. I’m like, ‘Ryden, what the heck happened to you?’ Because we’re all pretty tall, and then all of a sudden he’s up way taller than the cabinets.”

Hines kept playing football, becoming an almost mythical creature as northwestern Division I programs got wind of a 6-foot-8-inch Alaskan quarterback towering over his foes on the snow-covered tundra. “He was like a giant amongst boys there on the football field,” says Brion, a former defensive back at Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Hines, however, realized he could become an impact Division I basketball player after his sophomore year, when he made varsity and then traveled the AAU circuit over the summer.

“I noticed I could possibly do it when I was playing AAU against so-called top recruits, and I noticed that they’re not anything special,” Hines says. “All you’ve got to do is put the ball in the hoop at the end of the day.”

He did that and more.

“When he was going down to the Lower 48 for AAU tournaments,” Brion says, “he would get the most valuable player in some of them, or all-tournament player in the tournament.”

Even so, drawing interest from a Division I coach requires a fortuitous confluence of factors other than sheer size and skill: timely success and a program’s needs, to name a couple. Hines returned to Anchorage late every summer throughout high school empty-handed, not a single Division I offer to his name.

“I think it was hard for his dad and I sometimes to get on the same train with him because he had terrific opportunities at other places,” Lisa says, referring to non-Division I offers, “and you wonder if they’re going to pass by and there won’t be anything else.”

Ryden in Sutton, Alaska. Courtesy Photo / Ryden Hines
Ryden in Sutton, Alaska. Courtesy Photo / Ryden Hines

Division I opportunities don’t materialize often at the high school level in Alaska.

Hines is one of nine Alaskans suiting up for a Division I program this season — for perspective, 12 ESPN top 100 recruits in Hines’ high school class (2012) hail from Texas — and only Liberty’s Calvin Hoffman transitioned directly from an Alaska high school.

The talent pool exists, but Alaska is the Last Frontier. You’re more likely to have your boat capsized by an endangered humpback whale than to bump into a Division I basketball coach.

A postgrad year or JuCo stint is almost always necessary, though stars like Chalmers and Carlos Boozer have had handfuls of Division I suitors out of high school.

Rather than settle on a Division II program after his senior year at Dimond, Hines elected to go the prep route and packed his bags for Impact Academy in Las Vegas.

Bill O’Keefe, an Iona assistant, was in Vegas to scout another recruit at an Impact Academy game, but Hines’ size and shooting ability portended success in Tim Cluess’ run-and-gun system. When O’Keefe saw Hines again, he invited the postgrad to visit Iona’s campus in New Rochelle, N.Y.

“The rest,” Brion says, “is history.”

Hines played sparingly in his first season with the Gaels, but broke into the rotation around Christmas time as a sophomore. He had appeared in each of Iona’s first 10 games, only logging 10-plus minutes three times. Then Cluess felt his lineup could benefit from Hines’ hustle and his abilities to stretch the floor and rebound. In his second start of the season, Hines scored three points and grabbed eight boards in Iona’s 86-67 win over Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 23.

“The kid always works hard,” Cluess said after that game. “If I was going to tell you one guy who gives us a chance in interior defense, he’s going to work the hardest to do that… Ryden’s not going to block shots, but he’s going to get in the way, whether trying to take a charge or just having his body there. And he follows a gameplan very well.”

Since then, Hines has continued to impact the lineup. He’s averaging 5.2 points and 4.0 rebounds in Iona’s 11 games dating back to the FGCU tilt. He nailed a backbreaking 3-pointer in the Gaels’ 74-58 win over Fairfield on Jan. 13 and converted a clutch layup in an 80-79 win at Niagara on Jan. 16.

Hines shoots from the corner in Iona's upset of Wake Forest on Nov. 21. Courtesy Photo / ICGaels.com
Hines shoots from the corner in Iona’s upset of Wake Forest on Nov. 21. Courtesy Photo / ICGaels.com

His family made the trip to see him compete at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, 13 months to the day after their previous visit, when they saw Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pummel the Knicks on Christmas.

“That was just crazy,” Lisa says, “especially because last year … all five of us were watching that and talking about how neat it was to play in a historic place for the Knicks and that whole thing, and then for him to be on the same court playing 13 months later was almost surreal.”

His five points and two rebounds in 16 minutes were rather inconsequential in Iona’s 87-64 win over Niagara. The performance was far from scintillating, unlike Mario’s Miracle.

But while Chalmers served as a role model for Hines’ generation of Alaskan basketball players, Hines has a following of his own back home.

“It is nice going home and having little kids know who you are and remember certain games that you don’t even remember,” he says. “Kids coming up, saying congrats and they’ll know your stats here at Iona and they’ll ask you for gear, stuff like that. It does mean a lot.”

“There’s a lot of kids that want to do the same thing Ryden does,” Lisa says. “He’s a real role model to them. When Ryden comes home and goes to the grocery store everyone knows who he is.”

“Anchorage is a big, little, small town,” Brion says of the municipality with a population of 396,142 people (2013 census).

Small and remote as Alaska may be, Hines achieved his goal and became the first Division I basketball commit out of Dimond. He’s a reminder to the next generation of hoopsters from the Last Frontier that they can bring their dreams to fruition while allocating invaluable time to live like an Alaskan.

“I want kids to have the same opportunity that I’m having because it is hard to make it out of Alaska because it is so far away and so isolated,” Hines says. “I’m just hoping that they can have the same chance as me.”

Like he said, it’s all about putting the ball in the basket at the end of the day.

One day, maybe, they’ll do that from Ryden’s Spot.

Ari Kramer is a New York-based writer who covers the MAAC for One-Bid Wonders. Follow him on Twitter at @Ari_Kramer.

Ryden Hines gives Iona promising performance against FGCU

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – Kelvin Amayo scored a team-high 23 points in Iona’s loss to George Mason, so, naturally, he began Tuesday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast on the bench in favor of Ryden Hines.

Hines had started just one of Iona’s 10 games this season. He had attempted just 11 field goals, and played just 8.6 minutes per game.

Hines’ sole offensive output in Iona’s 86-67 win over the Eagles was a three-pointer out of the right corner, just one of the two shots he attempted in 25 minutes. But the 6-foot-10 sophomore added so much more to the Gaels’ winning effort.

Ryden Hines gave Iona so much more than the three points he scored against Florida Gulf Coast. Courtesy Photo / ICGaels.com
Ryden Hines gave Iona so much more than the three points he scored against Florida Gulf Coast. Courtesy Photo / ICGaels.com

Hines grabbed eight rebounds, two offensive, and displayed his high basketball IQ with timely and effective shifts on defense. With 4:57 left in the first half, he slid over and drew a charge on Brett Comer. It was the first of four fouls on Florida Gulf Coast’s point guard, who scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half.

“Look at the energy [Hines] came out with. Phenomenal. We won the boards by [nine], which is not normal for us,” said Cluess, whose team’s average rebounding margin is minus-4.5. “It really helped us that we were able to play big today and still score the ball playing big. Ryden really took a lot on his shoulders.”

It’s no secret that Iona’s two most glaring weakness are depth and defense. Just seven players average at least 10 minutes per game for a Gaels team that ranks 299th in the nation with an adjusted 105.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Gaels play at the country’s seventh-fastest pace, and they have faded, seemingly due to fatigue, down the stretch of a few games this season, most notably at Arkansas.

Hines is the seventh player averaging double-figures in minutes, right about where Cluess expected him to be in the preseason. In Hines, Cluess has seen a smart, scrappy big man with an ability to stretch the floor on offense, but the coach hadn’t reaped the benefits of those qualities in large portions until Tuesday.

With Hines playing a key role, Iona held Florida Gulf Coast to 1.00 points per possession.

“The kid always works hard,” Cluess said. “If I was going to tell you one guy who gives us a chance in interior defense, he’s going to work the hardest to do that. And [against George Mason] we just gave up way too many easy baskets where guys were driving and nobody was there. Ryden’s not going to block shots, but he’s going to get in the way, whether trying to take a charge or just having his body there. And he follows a gameplan very well.”

Hines was focused on executing his part of that gameplan.

“Just coming in, I knew I had to play my role,” he said. “I have great scorers around me, so I have to get rebounds. That’s what I have to do. “

Hines had plenty of opportunities to score, catching several passes behind the three-point line with enough time to shoot over a closing out defender. Nearly every time he shot-faked before passing. He’s just 4-for-12 from three so far this year after knocking down seven of his 15 treys last year.

“A lot of times I was screaming at him to shoot the ball,” said A.J. English, who scored a game-high 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting and added six rebounds and five assists. “He was passing up shots and stuff.”

For now, at least, just getting productive minutes out of Hines will satisfy Cluess. English, David Laury, Schadrac Casimir and Isaiah Williams can shoulder the scoring load.

“It’s not about scoring for those guys on the bench,” Cluess said. “If they can come out and play good defense, shut someone down, get rebounds, get a charge or two, flow the ball, it helps our team.”

Ari Kramer is a New York-based writer who covers the MAAC for One-Bid Wonders. Follow him on Twitter at @Ari_Kramer.