Fayetteville, AR (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of teams off to impressive starts meet in non-conference action on Sunday afternoon, as the Iona Gaels come calling on the 25th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks.
Iona has won four of its first five games to begin the season, and the team is riding a three-game win streak at the moment. The Gaels blew out visiting Delaware State last Wednesday, 126-76, and that was preceded by a double-digit win over North Texas (78-58).
Arkansas is perfect after the first two weeks of the season, winning each of its first five games to climb into the national rankings for the first time since 2007. The Razorbacks have four games by double digits, including an 89-73 decision versus North Texas on Friday. A win today would give the Hogs their first 6-0 start since 1997-98, when they went on to win their first eight games.
This bout marks the first meeting between the Gaels and Razorbacks on the hardwood.
Iona can boast of having one of the top scorers in the country on its roster, as A.J. English is averaging 25.2 ppg (No. 2 nationally) thanks to his 42 percent shooting effort from 3-point range. In fact, the Gaels are 10th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (.451), and there are three other double-digit scorers that help them put up an average of 88 ppg. Schadrac Casimir (16.4 ppg), Isaiah Williams (16.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and David Laury (15.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) have all done their part in helping Iona get off to such a tremendous start, at least offensively. The Gaels will need to tighten things up on defense if they truly want to be considered among the best teams around, as they currently give up 74.8 ppg while suffering a -7.2 rebounding deficit.
Iona established several new school records in its recent rout of Delaware State, scoring 126 points on the strength of 24 3-pointers. Casimir paced the Gaels with 40 points, hitting 8-of-9 long-range tries and 10-of-11 free throws, while considerable help came from English (26 points), Williams (25 points) and Laury (15 points). Laury actually logged a double-double by also grabbing 10 rebounds, while English was close to joining him as he dished out nine assists. Defensively, Iona did well in limiting the Hornets to 37 percent field goal efficiency.
North Texas hung tight with Arkansas in the first half, as the Mean Green trailed only 38-36 at the break. From there however, the Razorbacks cranked up the offense as they outscored their guests, 51-37 over the final 20 minutes to put the game away. Michael Qualls led the Hogs with 22 points and nine rebounds, while Anthlon Bell and Rashad Madden chipped in with 15 points apiece. As a team, Arkansas drained 11-of-27 3-point tries, went 20-of-25 at the charity stripe, claimed a 47-34 rebounding advantage, and committed only six turnovers against 21 assists. Madden was credited with seven helpers.
As it stands, the Razorbacks have four players averaging double figures in the scoring column, led by Bobby Portis at 15.2 ppg. Portis also spearheads the team's rebounding effort with 5.6 rpg. Qualls is next on the scoring list with 14.4 ppg, while Bell adds 11.8 ppg and Madden 10.2 ppg to go with his 5.8 apg. Arkansas, which averages a gaudy 89.2 ppg, is actually a better 3-point shooting than Iona, ranking fifth nationally (.467), the team knocking down 48.6 percent of its total shots. UA's foes are netting 69.6 ppg, but they are guilty of more than 19 turnovers per outing.