NEW ROCHELLE - After needing a late rally to come back and escape Poughkeepsie with a win over Marist on Wednesday, Iona didn't leave much doubt against Rider on Friday night.
The Gaels (8-2) started strong and sustained the momentum the rest of the way to improve to 2-0 in MAAC play, defeating the Broncs, 80-54.
"I've been very concerned about our defense, it's been a strong point every place I've coached," Iona coach Rick Pitino said. "I told the guys, statistically, all the analytics of our defense had been subpar. Tonight, first half especially, we played great defense and that was a great lift. We did a lot of great things."
Nelly Junior Joseph led the way with 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Dylan van Eyck had 14 points, six rebounds and three assists off the bench. Berrick JeanLouis added 11 points, five boards, five assists, two steals and two blocks.
For Rider (3-7, 0-1 MAAC), Jaelen McGlone paced the Broncs with 11 points. Nehemiah Benson had 10 points. All five of the Broncs' starters were held to nine or fewer points.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Getting comfortable without Elijah Joiner
Joiner has had a streak of injuries over the last couple of months. His latest one, a knee injury that stemmed from the closing minutes of Iona's game against Liberty, has caught up to him.
Although he played in the Gaels' remaining games at Orlando, he didn't play against Marist and was out again for Rider.
"Walter (Clayton Jr.) and Colton (Cashaw) can get the job done," Pitino said. "They're not as good defensively as Elijah, but it's a big lift for us to get them that experience. We'll get Elijah back soon, maybe another week or so.
"He's got to get his weight down, get his knee healthy. We just want to get a little weight off of him, so it's not too much pressure on his knee."
Joiner is averaging 9.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game this season.
The Gaels definitely needed to adjust against Marist, but they seemed more ready and comfortable to adapt without Joiner for Rider.
Joiner provides a secondary scoring and rebounding presence, but importantly, he's a facilitator and ball-handler they can rely on.
Iona looked crisp offensively without Joiner, getting good ball movement and a balanced scoring effort.
"With Elijah out, the freshmen, Colton, and everyone had to step up," JeanLouis said. "Everybody got to play, which was good, so everybody got a chance to show what they can do."
Iona found a strong offensive rhythm early, shooting 45.7% in the first half to take a 45-26 lead at the break.
As a team, the Gaels finished with 18 assists on 26 made shots, and nine different players scored at least once.
"The last game we played against Marist, the ball wasn't moving that much," JeanLouis said. "If we move the ball around, we felt we could get some paint touches to pass off for threes and layups. Moving the ball really helped us a lot."
Berrick JeanLouis' scoring punch, all-around game
JeanLouis has been typically known for his defensive prowess on the basketball court.
The former New Mexico State and Florida Southwestern State transfer earned a reputation for being the team's top defender in his inaugural season with the Gaels during the 2020-21 campaign.
His hard-nosed defense has carried over into this season and was apparent on Friday night. He helped the Gaels lockdown on Dwight Murray Jr., Rider's leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, and limited him to just six points on 3 of 10 shooting. JeanLouis also had some steals and blocks, plus deflections, to energize the team's defensive effort.
"Dwight Murray is a hell of a basketball player," Pitino said. "Berrick did a phenomenal job on him tonight. Not easy to do. The defense matched the offense tonight, we had 18 assists and did a lot of good things. We had nine steals, and we pressed well."
However, he also made his mark on the scoring end.
JeanLouis entered the game against Rider averaging just 3.7 points per game this season.
On Friday, he was more assertive and hit double figures for the first time this year.
He went 4-of-5 in the opening half, before the reserves started to play more in the second half, and finished with 11 points and five assists.
"Offense, I don't really try to force it or anything," JeanLouis said. "I just do what I'm given, so if I have a fast break, I'm going to try and lay it up. If I can make a play, I'm going to pass it to my teammates."
The Gaels have now won 17 of the last 20 meetings with Rider, a stretch that also includes seven straight for Iona.
It was also Iona's largest margin of victory this season, and the biggest of the seven-game winning streak over the Broncs. Friday gave Iona a chance to play its reserves, and the Gaels went 13-deep.
"We feel like a lot of the guys haven't been able to showcase their talents yet, because we've been in so many close games," van Eyck said. "In close games, you want the guys who have been in those situations before to run the show and that's been our success. We're 8-2 with a lot of close games, but in games like this where we get an early lead, the freshmen have a little more freedom to show their talent because it's not as much pressure."
The Gaels' previously lost to Rider on Feb. 26, 2018, in a high-scoring 110-101 affair. Before that, Iona had only lost to Rider two other times since 2013.
Iona will now have a break from MAAC play and basketball, after playing seven games in a 15-day stretch. The Gaels return to action on Sunday, Dec. 12 against Yale in the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: College basketball: Three takeaways from Iona's 80-54 win over Rider