Jason Flagler added 16 points for the Bulldogs (1-4) including four free throws in the final 1:31.
Both teams shot well from the field, with South Carolina State going 29-of-57 and Iona 26-of-51. The Gaels lost despite making 10 of 18 shots from 3-point range while the Bulldogs were 8-of-24 from beyond the arc.
Iona outscored South Carolina State 19-7 to start the second half for a 51-46 lead. But the Bulldogs responded with a 17-7 spurt, and the game was close the rest of the way.
Iona took a 74-73 lead with 2:27 left, but Flagler made two free throws a little over a minute later to put his team ahead for good.
The Bulldogs won despite being outrebounded 38-28.