The reasons that Iona is off to its best start in 11 seasons begin with defense. The kind that makes it difficult for a team to even get off a clean shot. The kind that eventually would contribute to Loyola's demise last night.
The Greyhounds became the eighth opponent to shoot less than 40 percent against Iona. And a game that was close for most of the first half wouldn't stay that way, with the Gaels posting an 87-62 victory at Reitz Arena.
Loyola was down by one with about five minutes left before halftime when disaster struck. Iona (9-2) turned up its defensive pressure another notch, went on a 12-1 run to close the half and never looked back in winning its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opener.
"I don't want to take anything away from their basketball team, but [the problem] was us," said Loyola coach Brian Ellerbe, whose team had won three of its past four, including Monday's upset of Manhattan. "We were pretty bad, in every phase. I don't know what the reasoning is. This is a hard one to figure out. I've never seen a turnaround in effort and execution so drastically.
"I don't think we did things to help ourselves. Even when the game was reasonably close in the first half, we didn't take advantage of the situation. But there was no need to panic or go nuts at halftime or after the game. There's a lot of basketball to be played."
Junior forward Anthony Smith scored 19 points for Loyola, which shot 34.5 percent and committed 19 turnovers. Freshman forward Nsilo Abraham had 10 points. Sophomore guard Mike Powell, the Greyhounds' leading scorer, shot 3-for-14 and finished with nine points.
Junior Bryan Matthew led Iona with 24 points. The Gaels went to the free-throw line 54 times, making 37 (68.5 percent). Loyola was 18-for-34 (52.9 percent).
Ellerbe used 10 players in the first half, trying to find the right combination. One change he didn't want to make was having to remove Abraham with 15:28 left in the half. Abraham scored Loyola's first five points before picking up his second foul and going to the bench.
Someone other than Abraham didn't score for Loyola (4-9, 1-2) until seven minutes had elapsed. The basket, by Duane Johnson, also ended an 8-0 run for Iona that produced a 12-5 lead.
The Greyhounds moved ahead 13-12 after consecutive three-pointers by Teron Owens and Milt Williams. The Greyhounds were down 26-25 after another three-pointer by Owens against Iona's zone, but that would be their last field goal of the half.
All they could muster was a free throw by Powell, his only point of the half, and that came after Owens and the Gaels' Mindaugas Timinskas were assessed technical fouls after scrambling for a loose ball.
Iona kept the margin around 20 points for most of the second half, which was marked by some hard fouls and an occasional missed dunk. When Loyola's Julian Tate scored on a follow with 5:14 left, Iona's lead stood at 74-55 and the Greyhounds had surpassed their lowest point total of the season.
"They were hot, but we came in fired up," said Iona coach Tim Welsh. "This was our first game in a week and our second in 15 days. We were anxious to play."
Iona shot 23-for-56 from the field, but Welsh said, "When you play good defense, with that kind of intensity, no matter how you shoot the ball, you have a good chance of winning."