The Iona College men’s basketball team beat Fairfield 60-51 to win the 2021 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino led the No. 9-seed Gaels to defeat No. 7-seed Fairfield just a day before the 1-year anniversary of his hiring.
Pitino is the third coach in the history of college basketball to take five different teams to the NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He previously led Louisville, Kentucky, Providence and Boston University to the Big Dance.
“It is so exciting to see my players this happy,” Pitino said.
Pitino has now earned an automatic bid from 6 different conferences, the most by any coach all-time, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Pitino, who is coaching at a mid-major school, said he inherited a great program and credited the leadership that set the team up for success in his remarks after the game.
“If we don’t go to a Final Four, I’m quitting and going back to Greece,” he jokingly said.
Pitino’s Gaels never trailed against Fairfield and finished the first half on a 10-0 run to give the team a 12-point lead that they wouldn’t give up.
They extended the lead to as many as 16 points in the second half, led by the senior backcourt of Asante Gist, who was responsible for 18 points, and Isaiah Ross, who was responsible for 13 points.
Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reports that Iona did not play a game from Dec. 23 to Feb. 12 this season due to COVID issues, after he said he’s still the best coach in the country.
With the win and an automatic bid to the tournament, Iona will mark its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in the past six seasons.