Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Catholic School Shootout

This article is also on the Mid Majority 800 Games Recap Site.

Before last night, the last time I saw an Iona Men's Basketball game was March 30 of this year, when the Hynes Center hosted the championship game of the CIT as Santa Clara played Iona. With the recent advent of the College Insider Tournament (CIT), the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), as well as the seventy three year old NIT, which was won this season by Wichita State, some mid major teams' seasons now don't always end in loss.   The home team had a chance to end their season with a win.  Alas for the Gaels, it was the Broncos' season that didn't end in a loss, as Santa Clara downed Iona 76-69 to win the CIT championship.

The Gaels expect a lot more than a CIT berth this season.  With the addition of  Lamont "Momo" Jones, a transfer from Arizona, to a team that is returning Michael Glover and Scott Machado, Iona is the favorite to win the MAAC.  And if not for one Robbie Hummel, they might very well be undefeated.  The Gaels, who entered the contest with a 3-1 record, have averaged ninety one points per game, which is second in the country in scoring.  Iona is also second in the country in assists per game, averaging an incredible twenty two assists per game.

Iona's opponent, St Joseph's was also 3-1, with their sole loss being to Seton Hall.  St Joe's was looking to improve on last season, their second season in a row with twenty plus losses.  The Hawks have their own star in Carl Jones, who is averaging over twenty three points per game, shooting fifty six percent from the field and a ridiculous fifty seven percent on his three point attempts.

When I left my house in North Bellmore last night at 6:00 P.M., I was sure that I would not make it to New Rochelle until well into the first half.  The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest travel days of the year as well as the biggest party night of the year.  I expected a lot of traffic on my route to Iona, especially on the usual traffic spots like the Northern State/Grand Central  Parkway, the Cross Island Parkway and the Hutchinson River Parkway.   Much to my amazement, the only traffic I encountered was on the will call line at the Hynes Center for my ticket.

After I got my ticket, I entered the gym shortly after tipoff.  Glover made two free throws to put the Gaels up 4-3.  I noticed the Hynes Center was pretty much full, which was somewhat surprising considering the school was on break for the long Thanksgiving weekend.. However, Iona had received a lot of local press as perhaps the best team in the local New York City Area.  Going into the game, the Gaels were the top ranked team in John Templon's Big Apple Buckets NYC Power Poll.  And given St Joseph's long history as a mid major basketball power, it made sense that the gym was near capacity.  And the 2,611 that were in attendance were treated to one hell of a game.

St Joseph's showed early on that they had about as much talent as Iona had on offense.  Langston Galloway's three point barrage and C.J. Aiken's all around play riddled the Gaels defense early on in the game. The Hawks had a 33-20 lead midway through the first half.  Up to that point, Iona's defensive play was seriously lacking.

The Gaels called timeout and then turned up the pressure defense.  As a result, Iona went on a run, forcing a lot of Hawks' turnovers and actually tied the game at thirty nine with a little less than three minutes left.  Iona's offensive plan was a simple one.  First, it was Machado driving the lane, often "Feeding the Beast", as in get the ball to Glover, who scored at will on the Hawks.  However if Machado saw St Joe's trying to concentrate on Glover,  Machado would either hit the layup or kick it to Kyle Smyth for an open three pointer.

St Joe's would regain the lead and entered halftime up 45-43.  Both teams got a rousing ovation from the fans as they left the court together by the Gaels bench for the locker room.   The halftime entertainment started off with the typical dance team performing with lousy canned music.

After that mercifully ended,  the fans were treated to the Iona Pep Band's terrific renditions of popular songs.  The Iona pep band is made up of  older gentlemen and plays only at men's games.  They play during most timeouts, at halftime and at the end of the game.  Their renditions of Steely Dan's "Peg", Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein", Rick James' "Brickhouse", and George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic's "We Want the Funk", among others, are absolutely terrific.  After the game, my friend Mal and I actually went over and thanked them for playing.

The second half was a back and forth affair. It was very close for the last twenty minutes of regulation, with no team getting a lead larger than five points. For Iona, Glover and Machado continued to score at will, but Smyth was now added to the mix, as he contributed several three pointers. But Galloway, Aiken, Carl Jones and Ronald Roberts kept St Joe's right there.

With 30 seconds left, the Hawks were up two, 83-81.  Machado was fouled and had a chance to tie.  But he only made one of two free throws and Iona was forced to foul.  However, Carl Jones returned the favor and missed his second free throw.   Machado found Taaj Ridley for a layup to tie the game at eighty four with eight seconds left.   With the fans stomping and chanting defense, Iona forced a turnover and the game went into overtime.

In overtime, Iona was up two 93-91 and had the ball on an inbounds play with about thirty seconds to play. Momo Jones was trapped by the Gaels bench, but the ball appeared to be knocked out of bounds by a Hawks' player.  However, the referee ruled St Joe's ball and Iona's coach, Tim Cluess was livid.  The Hawks would tie the score at ninety three and we went to a second overtime.

During the break before the start of the second overtime, Cluess had to be restrained by his assistant coaches and his players from going after the referee who made the call.  As the fans booed the referee's call, Cluess was fortunate that he wasn't called for a technical foul.  But his senior point guard wouldn't let him down.

Machado took over from there.  He would score seven of the Gaels' nine points in the second overtime.  The Hawks, who only really had a seven man rotation, seemed gassed at the end.  Iona would make the fans' holiday drive home a happy one, winning 104-99.  Glover had a huge double double with 34 points and 15 rebounds, while Machado's double double was 33 points and 10 assists.  Carl Jones led St Joe's with 25 points while Roberts had 20 points for the Hawks.

As we left the Hynes Center, I knew I would be back here soon.  Iona plays their next home game Monday night vs. LIU.  The Blackbirds were one of the top scoring teams in the country last season, averaging eighty two points per game.

Just the kind of tempo the Gaels like to play.

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