Cole Anthony and Bryce Wills have become close friends through playing on the AAU circuit over the past few years. Anthony, a Molloy standout point guard, had no trouble putting that aside when his team traveled to face Wills and Iona Prep.
“Bryce is like one of my brothers,” Anthony said. “But I really wanted to go at him. This game has been on my calendar for a while.”
Anthony didn’t wait long to make his presence felt at Iona on Wednesday, scoring 11 of his game-high 31 points in the opening 90 seconds as Molloy built a sizeable early lead before holding on late for a 69-66 victory.
After falling behind 13-0 early, Wills and Iona Prep (7-1) chipped away, took its first advantage in the third and traded leads in the fourth before Wills’ heave from inside halfcourt at the buzzer misfired.
“It comes down to decision-making for us,” Anthony said. “We are a very talented group. It also comes down to what we need to do in crunch time.”
Anthony and 7-foot-1 junior Moses Brown held on late after carrying the Stanners all night. Brown, regarded as the No. 1 center recruit nationally in the Class of 2018, posted 17 points and 14 rebounds.
It was Anthony who put on a show early, connecting on all five of his field goal attempts, including three long 3-pointers, in the first quarter as Molloy took a 24-13 lead into the second.
Brown scored 10 of his points in the second but Iona finally came to life. Wills and Josh Alexander each scored seven points in the period and 6-foot-9 forward Souleyman Kouriessi drilled a pair of 3-pointers. Nick Brennen pulled the Gaels within 40-37 at the half with a put-back at the buzzer.
“They just started hitting shots,” Anthony said. “We got off to a hot start. But, as the game progresses, they’re bound to hit shots and they did.”
Iona Prep took its first lead in the third when Brennen (11 points) hit a 3-pointer, which Molloy’s Jade Tse immediately followed with a 3 of his own.
The lead changed hands four times in the fourth before Brown’s emphatic putback dunk with 44 seconds to play extended Molloy’s lead to five.
Alexander (18 points) closed the lead back to two with a 3-pointer. Jacob Hargraves had a steal with 10 seconds to play for the Gaels but, following a timeout, Iona turned it over on a five-second inbound violation. Anthony had a chance to seal it with seven seconds left but missed two free throws. Wills pushed the ball up for the floor but his runner inside halfcourt missed.
Wills finished with 12 points and Kouriessi had 13 for Iona. Hargraves had the only five points by a non-starter for Iona while Molloy got none from its bench.
Khalid Moore was strong defensively for the Stanners defending Wills. Moore also had seven points for Molloy, which next plays Rutgers Prep (NJ) on Dec. 27 at Marist College.
“Defensively, Khalid was the key to this game,” Anthony said. “Bryce is a tough player to guard and Khalid took that challenge.”