Monday, November 28, 2011

The Paul Westhead Invitational

Yesterday was an exasperating day.  I can't get into details, but I was agitated when I got home.  Thankfully, salvation was only ninety minutes away, for I had this game between LIU and Iona circled on my calendar.  I knew I was going to see a game that "The Guru of Go" would truly love.

Westhead is the creator of "The System".  It's based on simple math - More Possessions + More Shot Attempts = More Points.  And there are no two better examples of  "The System" than LIU and Iona, led by their proponents, Blackbirds' coach Jim Ferry and Gaels' coach Tim Cluess.. Last season, LIU was fourth in the nation in scoring at 82.7 points per game and fifth in the country in possessions per game at 70.6.  Meanwhile, Iona is currently first in the country averaging 94 points per game and second in assists at 21.3.  

"The System" has worked for both teams.  LIU made the NCAA Tournament after winning the NEC championship.  Meanwhile Iona made the MAAC Conference Tournament finals, then the CIT finals and are the heavy favorites to win the MAAC this season.  This was going to be the basketball version of the Penn Relays (Google it).  I had the over/under for points scored for last night's game at 180.

I was hoping to bring my basketball buddy, my older son Matthew to the game last night, knowing he would love this fast pace, high scoring game.  But he had homework to do, so daddy went off by himself to New Rochelle.  As I got there, there was another good crowd on hand at the Hynes Center.  Not as good as the game vs. St Joseph's last Wednesday, but the one side of bleachers was basically full.

As expected, the game got off to a rip roaring, albeit sloppy start.  The Gaels went out to an 11-2 lead.  But the Blackbirds came back and cut the deficit to four, 23-19.  By this time, both teams had a combined nine turnovers, but of course forty two points.  After Jermel Jenkins hit a three pointer to make it 26-19, the Gaels had eight possessions where they used 10 seconds or less of the shot clock.

The game was still close, 33-29 with a little less than six minutes left when Iona when on a 21-9 run to end the half.  It was led by their two best players, Michael Glover and Scott Machado, who combined for twelve of the twenty one half ending points.  The Gaels were up 54-38 at the half.

The halftime entertainment consisted of two of my favorite things.  One, a local catholic school boys team played at the half.  And they emulated the two college teams by playing end to end action.  The other was hearing the always terrific Iona Pep Band playing songs like "Peg", "Brickhouse" and some Stevie Wonder and KC and the Sunshine Band tunes.   While all this was going on, I honestly thought I might see more points scored in the second twenty minutes than the first twenty minutes.

And at the start of the second half, Iona came out with the intention of doing exactly that. Within barely the first eight minutes, the Gaels outscored the Blackbirds 33-17.  During this time, Iona forced eight LIU turnovers.  Meanwhile, Glover was terrorizing the Blackbirds, scoring at will inside while Jermel Jenkins scored at will from the outside with three point bombs.  With twelve minutes left, Iona was up 87-55.  The  game for all intensive purposes was over and the question was, when would the Gaels score one hundred points?

Someone though forgot to tell the Blackbirds the game was over.  LIU outscored Iona 19-3 over the next nearly eight minutes.  The Gaels actually went scoreless for about four and a half minutes during that stretch. The score was 90-74.  But a layup by who else, Glover, made sure the score didn't get any closer.

Iona finally scored one hundred points on a layup by Machado 2:19 left. At that point, the crowd started to file out.  The Gaels would not score again, but they already had done enough damage.  LIU managed to score their season average from last season, eighty two, but lose by eighteen, 100-82.   Had Iona not had that scoring drought in the second half, the teams would have easily eclipsed the point total for the first half.  But ninety points in the second half certainly wasn't bad.

Glover had another double double with twenty eight points and fourteen rebounds. Machado had another double double as well with fourteen points and ten assists.  Jamal Olasewere led LIU with twenty points.  The two teams combined for forty two assists and forty turnovers.  Iona now heads out on the road for the entire month of December. Meanwhile, LIU already has to start defending its NEC conference championship on Thursday against an improved Wagner team.  No rest for the weary.

As I left the Hynes Center and headed to my car, I thought of one thing.  Someone should send Paul Westhead a plane ticket to New York.  He should catch a couple of Iona and LIU games.  He would be so proud.

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