Friday, November 18, 2011

Lady Gaels Rally Late to Down Seawolves

The mark of a good team is how it bounces back from a loss.  After watching Iona lose to Villanova in the championship game of the Iona Tip-Off Classic last Saturday, the Lady Gaels won their next game at Bryant on Tuesday by thirteen points, 66-53.  Last night in New Rochelle, the Iona Women's Basketball Team looked to continue their winning ways as they hosted Stony Brook.

The game started with a brief moment of silence in respect to the tragic passing of Oklahoma State coaches Kirk Budke and Miranda Serna due to a plane crash (you need to read Mechelle Voepel's wonderful article about Budke).  Then the Lady Gaels won the opening tip and immediately scored the first basket on a layup by Danika Martinez.  But it would be the only one of two baskets Iona would score for sixteen and half minutes. The Lady Gaels would commit six of their eleven first half turnovers in the first six minutes and proceed to shoot 3 of 21 in the first half.

A lot of the credit for Iona's first half struggles has to go to Stony Brook who came out and played a stifling defense.  Seawolves first year head coach Beth O'Boyle was the former associate head coach at Canisius. From MAAC conference play, she knows the Lady Gaels' offensive sets quite well.   Stony Brook disrupted Iona's handoff offense and the Lady Gaels struggled to get off shots in the first half (21 shot attempts compared to the Seawolves 31 shot attempts). Stony Brook also controlled the boards in the first half (the Seawolves outrebounded the Lady Gaels 45-37 on the night) and had numerous second chance opportunities.

Fortunately for Iona, Stony Brook was also having their own offensive struggles, shooting 6 of 31 in the first half.  The result was the unseemly score of 17-7 at halftime.  It just happened to be the same score of last night's Oklahoma State - Iowa State football game at the half.  It turns out both games would end in a similar fashion.

During halftime, Iona tried to have their dance team perform a routine.  But the dance team's performance was delayed due to problems with their music on the sound system.  It was once again a reminder that perhaps Iona should have their solid pep band play at the women's games as well.

The second half was a complete antithesis of the first half.  Both teams came out scoring as the Lady Gaels' press sped up the game's tempo.  Stony Brook and Iona scored as many points in the first eight minutes as they had scored in the entire first half.   The Seawolves extended their lead to as much as fourteen, 32-18 on a Whitney Davis jumper with 11:30 left in the game.  The Lady Gaels couldn't seem to really cut into the Seawolves lead.  Then with the score 34-23, my friend Mal finally showed up for the game. He apparently brought Iona some luck with him.

Even though Iona was still down eleven, the pace favored the Lady Gaels. Their press was starting tire the Seawolves.  On the offensive end, Iona  showed much more patience.  They only had four turnovers and shot over 48 percent from the field in the second half.  And the Lady Gaels' best player, one of their senior captains, was going to lead the way.

For the entire first half,  Iona's Kristina Ford struggled.  She scored just three points on 1 of 7  shooting and three turnovers in the first twenty minutes.  But in the second half, Ford channeled her inner Charles Jenkins and just went off on Stony Brook.  She scored seven of Iona's first eleven points in eight and a half minutes.  Then with the score 34-27, Ford went on another run of her own.  In the span of nearly six minutes, Ford would score twelve points and dish out three assists.   She scored her last points of the span calmly burying a three to tie the game at 45 with 1:42 left.  The crowd went nuts as Coach Tony Bozzella decided to call a 30 second timeout to set up his defense.

After Stony Brook missed on their next attempt, Ford continued her impression of Sir Charles.  She neatly fed Aleesha Powell for an open three and Powell buried it to put the Lady Gaels up 48-45 with 57 seconds left.  It was their first lead in thirty eight minutes.  But the Seawolves Dani Klupenger downed another big three, her third of the game, and the game was tied with 33 seconds left.

Here's where an interesting decision was made that I believe may have had an effect on the outcome of the game.  O'Boyle called a thirty second timeout, the last timeout Stony Brook had in regulation.  She subbed out her leading scorer Klupenger, who had fourteen points, for Jessica Previlon, apparently for defensive purposes.

Iona inbounded the ball and everyone knew who was going to get the ball.  Ford.  The question is could Stony Brook deny her the chance to get it.  But the Lady Gaels' senior point guard Suzi Fregosi was able to drive the lane and find Ford on a backdoor play.  Ford got her last two points of the game on a layup and the Lady Gaels were back up two, 50-48 with ten seconds left.

After assistant Ashlee Kelly wisely noted that the Lady Gaels had two fouls to give, Bozzella called timeout to have his players use those fouls to disrupt the Seawolves' offense.  But O' Boyle never inserted Klupenger back in the game. After Iona fouled Stony Brook twice, there was five seconds left.  Klupenger was still sitting on the sidelines while the Seawolves had one last play to run to either tie or win the game.

Iona starting guard Tomica Bacic really struggled for the first twenty minutes.   She was 0 for 2 from the field and missed two free throws.  She sat on the bench for nearly ten minutes before being reinserted late in the first half.  In the second half, Bacic contributed, scoring all eight of her points in the last twenty minutes. But she was about to give her biggest contribution of the game.

After Iona's sixth foul of the second half, Stony Brook got the ball in Previlon's hands.  She drove the lane and was going for a game tying layup.  But Bacic stood her ground in the lane and took the charge as Previlon barreled into her.  Previlon was called for an offensive foul and the Lady Gaels got the ball back.   Suzi Fregosi was then fouled and calmly sank two free throws to put Iona up by four with one second left.  Klupenger was subbed back into the game, but it was too late.  Iona completed their second half comeback, winning 52-48. With the win, the Lady Gaels improved to 3-1 on the season.

As the finally fixed sound system played "Back in the New York Groove", it was appropo for the second half.   Down fourteen with eleven and a half minutes left, Iona faced serious adversity.  But the Lady Gaels found their groove and outscored the Seawolves 34-16 over the last eight and half minutes of the game

Overcoming adversity is another mark of a good team.

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