After leading Iona to an NCAA Tournament appearance in his first season back in college basketball, Rick Pitino is only building that momentum to begin his second season. Pitino’s Gaels knocked out No. 10 Alabama 72-68 in the ESPN Events Invitational on Thursday. The win marked Pitino’s first team win at a major conference since he led Louisville to a 71-64 victory in the final game of the 2016-17 regular season, and there was nothing accidental about it.

Iona won despite only 4 out of 21 attempts from a 3-point sweep as the Gaels improved to 6-0 beating the Crimson Tide 43-35 in the second half. Five players reached double figures for Pitino’s side, led by Joseph Nelly’s 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.

Joseph was the third leading scorer for the Iona team last season, which finished 12-6 and earned a number 15 spot in the Big Dance thanks to the MAAC tournament title. Ironically, the Gaels played against Alabama in their first-round NCAA Tournament game, falling 68-55 after trailing just 33-32 at halftime.

Pitino seems to have only upgraded his roster since then. With SMU transfer guard Tyson Jolly and Tulsa transfer guard Elijah Joiner now on the team, Pitino has two seniors in his rear who were unimpressed by Alabama’s quality guards. The benefits of Pitino’s national recruiting capabilities were also on display as true freshman Walter Clayton Jr. added 15 points from the bench. Clayton was a coveted football prospect who turned down power conference options on the roster to play basketball for Pitino in the Northeast.

The victory of a raucous party in the dressing room of the Gaels led by the grandson of Pitino.

Alabama (4-1) was led by 19 points from Jaden Shackelford and 15 from Jahvon Quinerly. Iona will face Belmont or Drake in the semifinals on Friday, while Alabama will play the loser. Alabama’s loss eliminates the possibility of a top-10 matchup between the Crimson Tide and No. 3 Kansas in the championship game of the event.

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