Thursday, December 30, 2010

Iona's Balanced Attack Runs By Hofstra

Things in life often don't go as planned.  Take for instance this morning.  I woke up at 5:15 and I figured, well I could lie in bed and try to go back to sleep, or I could use the time productively and write about last night's Hofstra vs Iona Men's Basketball game.  The productive side in me won and as I sat down in the entertainment room, I quietly gave myself a congratulations for the initiative.  But literally as I started typing the first sentence of this article, I heard my younger son Jonathan crying in the bedroom he shares with my older son.

Yes, at 5:15, my younger son Jonathan was fully awake.   One serving of milk, four mini pancakes and a Little Einsteins episode on Fios On Demand later resulted in a delay of this article.  So much for initiative and so much for the plan I had made.

One of the good things about working in an academic institution is that I am off between Christmas Eve and New Year's.  This year, my break started the day before Christmas Eve and I gladly needed the extra day off.   When I woke up yesterday morning, I did as often do on a day off or on the weekend.  I grab any t-shirt from my dresser drawer, then collect the rest of my clothes for the day and take a shower.  I got out of the shower, shaved and then put on my t-shirt.   Then I noticed what I had selected.  An Iona T-Shirt that I got at one of the Iona women's basketball games that I went to in the past.    It was as if somebody was trying to tell me something about how last night's game was going to turn out (though I did my best to balance it by wearing a Hofstra cap).

As I met up with my friends Tieff and Mal to head out to New Rochelle, privately I was hoping for a better result than a year ago when I took the drive to Iona by myself.   When I think about things in life not going as planned, in the past 365 days, I have often thought about what happened that night, which was almost one year ago to the very day of last night's Iona game - my accident on the Hutchinson River Parkway.  I was fortunate that night when a minivan came into my lane spun my car out at 55 mph that I hit a grass embankment head on instead of a concrete barrier.  I was able to walk away and actually drive my car home.

Thankfully, as Tieff drove us up to Iona last night, there was no accident, likely due to the slim odds of a minivan coming into our lane again.  As we entered the all too familiar entrance to Iona College, we immediately noticed the number of Iona personnel directing traffic and the number of fans milling out in front of the Hynes Center.  And it wasn't surprising given an up and coming Gaels team that knocked off Richmond and gave Syracuse fits was facing a Pride team that had won six of their last seven and has the best player in the NYC area in Charles Jenkins.    The game also featured two head coaches each in their first year of Division I coaching - Hofstra's Mo Cassara and Iona's Tim Cluess, who somebody at one time recommended for the Hofstra job.

We got our tickets from will call and Mal picked up a program.  As we made our way to our seats, each of us ran into somebody we know and chatted for a while.  College basketball, especially between two local teams, is often a small little world and it just makes it a little more special than other sports.

When we finally sat down, the first thing we noticed was the Iona Pep Band playing a very good rendition of "Peg" by Steely Dan.  That's a great song you never hear played by a band or a PA system during a game.  Then Mal noticed that on the scorecard back of the program (which by the way is a nice little touch),  the incorrect players were listed for the Pride and asked who these players were.   I knew immediately what team it was as soon as I saw "Evan Fjeld".  It was Vermont, who Iona had hosted on December 22 and lost to 84-79.  It was as if this was another sign of things to come last night for Hofstra

The game started off with Iona scoring the first five points of the game as Mike Glover immediately made his presence known by getting fouled twice and hitting three of four free throw attempts.  Then after a Rashon Dwight dunk, Cassara wisely called timeout and righted his team.  Mike Moore and David Imes would score nine of the Pride's first eleven points and the game would be tied at 13 all with ten and a half minutes left in the first half.

Despite the game being tied, the pace of the game seemed to dictate that either Hofstra was struggling to find an offense against Iona's zone or the Pride was purposely trying to slow down the Gaels high powered offense.  A definite indicator that it might be the former was that Charles Jenkins had only one field goal attempt in the first nine and a half minutes of the game.  However, if it was the latter, the Gaels were about to change the pace.

Another dunk by Dwight would put the Gaels up for good 15-13.   Layups by Glover and Chris Pelcher, plus Pelcher hitting one of two free throws extended the lead to 18-13.  After Charles Jenkins hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 18-15, Iona responded with a 10-0 run.  After Iona missed on their first four three point attempts, Jermel Jenkins and Kyle Smyth starting busting Hofstra's zone with two three pointers.  Jermel Jenkins would then hit a two point jumper to put the Gaels up 28-15 with less than six and a half minutes left in the first half.

Mike Moore did his best to keep the Pride in the game by scoring the next four points to cut the deficit to nine, 28-19.   But again, Hofstra had no answer for Glover inside as he hit a monster dunk on an alley oop play, then he hit two free throws on a foul by Imes to put Iona back up by thirteen.  After a Greg Washington jumper and two Moore free throws again cut the lead to nine, Smyth hit two three point bombs and the lead was now fifteen, 38-23.  Charles Jenkins finally hit his first field goal of the game, a three pointer to cut the deficit to twelve.  Hofstra had a chance to get it down to ten or even nine with a three pointer, but a Washington turnover led to a Jermel Jenkins layup and the score was Iona 40 Hofstra 26 at the half.

When the Iona Pep Band played "Frankenstein" during the game, they must have had Glover in mind.  In the first half, Glover had eleven points, six rebounds and was causing fits for the Pride's frontcourt.  And if it wasn't Glover, it was Smyth who had three bombs from the outside.  The Gaels shot 58 percent in the first half (14 of 24).  

Hofstra actually had three more field goal attempts than Iona, but the Pride were only 10 of 27 from the field.  More importantly, Charles Jenkins only had three of those field goal attempts and only had five points.  In large part, Moore kept the deficit to fourteen thanks to his eleven first half points.

As the pep band kept playing great renditions of songs during halftime, including a very cool version of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir",  the Pride stayed in the locker room till about two minutes left before the start of the second half.   The first noticeable chance the Pride made was to come out and play man to man defense.  And Iona's Scott Machado immediately took advantage.

Machado, who only had two first half points on free throws, quickly had two layups as blew by the Hofstra defense.  His second layup made the score 46-28.  Another three pointer by Smyth, his fourth of the game extended the lead to twenty, 50-30 with not even three minutes gone by in the second half.    The rout was on.

The lead was still twenty, 54-34 with 15:10 left when Charles Jenkins decided to takeover the Pride offense.  "Charles in Charge" would score the next nine Hofstra points during a four minute span.  However, Jenkins barely made a dent in the deficit as Iona still lead 60-43 with 11:12 left. That's because Glover would score five points during that span including one hellacious dunk that brought a lot of oohs, ahs and wows from the crowd.

From there on out, it was not a question of whether Iona was going to win, it was a question of by how much.  Jenkins tried as much as he could, but Iona's balanced attack was too much for Hofstra.  Machado kept kniving into the Pride defense for layups and assists for easy baskets.  Machado would have 15 points and 9 assists in the second half alone as the Gaels lead swelled to over twenty again, 73-51 by who else, Machado, with 6:11 left in the game.

Hofstra made one last little spurt to get the deficit under twenty as Moore finally appeared from the second half witness protection program he apparently was in.  Moore, who hadn't scored a point since two free throws ninety seconds into the second half, hit a three pointer to make the score 79-60 with 3:50 left.  But the Pride appeared gassed from keeping up with the high octane Iona offense.   And Hofstra was playing only a seven man rotation due to the illnesses of both Yves Jules and Dwan McMillan.   The Gaels would end the game on a 8-2 spurt and win convincingly 87-62.

It was a dominating performance by Iona.  The Gaels shot even better in the second half, shooting 63 percent and shot 61 percent for the game.  Machado nearly missed a triple double as he had 17 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds.  Glover had a double double as he dominated inside with 16 points and 12 rebounds.  Alejo Rodriguez was equally effective inside with 15 points and Smyth added 16 points.  Iona did a wonderful job controlling the ball as they had 22 assists to only 9 turnovers and added 10 steals.  Iona is seventh in the nation in assists with 18.5 per game.

For Hofstra, Jenkins (20 points) and Moore (18 points) combined for 38 points on 13 of 28 shooting.  The problem was the rest of the team shot 8 of 28, including a combined 0 of 15 from guards Brad Kelleher and Shemiye McLendon.  A bright side for the Pride was that they shot 16 of 18 from the line (Iona was 16 of 22 from the charity stripe).

For both teams, it was the last non conference game of the season (sans the Bracketbusters in mid February).  Now it's onto conference games.  Iona, who showed they can score equally as well versus zone and man to man defenses, has a big road game at Siena on January 3rd.   A win would give the Gaels a 3-0 start in conference and based on what I saw, Iona has an excellent chance to be very successful in the MAAC this season.

Meanwhile, Hofstra, who now knows they have to get Jenkins involved early in the game, also plays a huge road game vs. 9-2 Drexel.   The Pride will face a much different style of basketball in the low and slow physical pace of the Dragons.  Hofstra must a get better showing from their frontcourt if they want to win at the DAC.

During our drive out to New Rochelle, Tieff, Mal and I finalized our plans for our overnight trip this weekend. The trip involves the Jets game on Sunday afternoon, followed by a trip to Atlantic City, capped by the Monday night game at Drexel.   And oh yes, dinner at Maggiano's in Little Italy.  Live college basketball and good italian food.   Wouldn't have a road trip to Philly any other way.

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