Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sean Armand's Virtuoso Solo (Recap of Siena vs. Iona)

Having attended many concerts at Madison Square Garden in my lifetime, there is often an opening act before the headliner.  The opening act is usually not that good, but the headliner more than makes up for that fact.  And often, the headlining band has a solo performance, usually a virtuoso guitarist, who has the crowd buzzing in amazement.  Such was the case in last night's Siena vs. Iona game.

Last night was a college basketball doubleheader at the World's Most Famous Arena.  The opening game/act was Louisville vs. St John's, who both decided to put on a brickfest for the first twenty minutes.  The Red Storm shot five of thirty five from the field in the first half (fourteen percent), while the Cardinals only shot thirty four percent to lead 29-18 at the half.  Louisville would win handily by fifteen, 73-58.

Thankfully the headliner game, started shortly thereafter.  As the public address announcer noted, the game featured "two mid major powers".  And the crowd, mainly made up of red for that local Power Six conference team, decided to stick around to see what the mid major fuss was all about.  After witnessing the headliner game myself, I am sure many in the audience were glad they stayed.

Two seasons ago, Siena was truly a "mid major power".  In 2009-10, the Saints would win their third straight MAAC conference championship and thus make their third straight NCAA appearance.  During this period of dominance, the Siena would win two NCAA Tournament games.

But the nucleus of that team graduated after that 2009-10 season.  Sensing that a rebuild was going to be in order,  Fran McCaffery decided instead to grab a huge payday and take the Iowa head coaching position. Mitch Buonaguro got the head coaching position and struggled in his first season as the Saints went 8-10 in conference, 13-18 overall.  This season Siena has been about the same, 0-2 in conference and 5-7 overall entering the contest.

They were playing an Iona team coming off a surprising loss to Hofstra, 82-75.  In that game, the Gaels had an uncharacteristic eighteen turnovers in the first half as they were down fifteen at halftime and never could recover.  Coach Tim Cluess took the responsibility for the loss and they were looking to rebound in front of a large crowd on perhaps the world's largest stage.

The fans in attendance were actually pretty quiet at the start of the game.  Siena actually came out on fire, taking an early 16-14 lead with about fourteen and half minutes left.  The Saints hit seven of their first ten shots.  But the pace clearly favored their opponents, the Gaels, the team that is fourth in the country in scoring offense, averaging 85.5 points per game.

Iona would take advantage of that pace as they went on a 21-9 run, powered by five three pointers, three by Jermel Jenkins and two by Momo Jones.  The score was now 37-23 Gaels with 7:15 left in the first half. The audience was now fully into the headlining act.  And they were about to get the virtuoso solo performance.

Iona's Sean Armand was one of Tim Cluess' highly touted recruits entering the 2010-11 season.  He played about eleven minutes per game last season, averaging slightly over six points per game.  With the graduation of Rashon Dwight, Armand appeared to be in line for a starting position this season.  But Jones transferred from Arizona to Iona to be near his ailing grandmother and received a hardship waiver to be able to play this season.

As a result, Armand was relegated to the bench again.  He has averaged thirteen minutes per game this season.   However, Armand has improved his three point shooting from 42 percent last season to 44 percent this season going into last night's game.  And he improved on that shooting percentage last night, as he got to show off that shooting talent in a big way.

After the Saints cut the lead to twelve, 37-25 with six and a half minutes left, Armand took over.  He would score the next TWENTY Iona points by himself.  He warmed up first with a layup.  Then like a great guitarist, Armand nailed two sweet riffs in a row, or in his case, buried two three pointers.  And like a great performer who knows his abilities and how to please the audience, Armand kept firing away.  He would hit six three pointers in total over those final six and a half minutes.

Armand by himself outscored the local Power Six conference team in their first half., 20-18.  Iona was up 57-31 at halftime.  As impressive as Armand was, the more impressive fact might have been that the Gaels scored fifty seven points and their leading scorer on the season, Michael Glover only had two of them.

With the game over for all intensive purposes, there were only two things left on the mind of the fans watching the game.  One, would Iona scored one hundred points again?  And two, what would Armand do for an encore?

Well, Tim Cluess knows how to keep the audience happy and had Armand start the second half.  And he didn't disappoint.   Three minutes in, Armand buried his second attempt of the half.   Not even two minutes later, another one, which was his eighth of the night.  The Armand watch was now officially on as the Iona record for three pointers in a game and the MAAC conference record for three pointers in a game were on the line.

After Glover briefly interrupted his performance with a layup, Armand hit his ninth three pointer to put the Gaels up thirty one, 70-39 with a little less than thirteen and a half minutes left in the game.   That broke the previous Iona record of eight by Kyle Smyth, the man he replaced in the lineup at the start of the second half.  It also tied the MAAC record of nine, previously held by five players.  Now all that remained was the record breaking tenth three-pointer..

The fans didn't have to wait too long for that record breaking tenth one.   Armand hit that with ten and a half minutes left to put the Gaels up thirty five.  He attempted three more shots from beyond the arc on the night, but missed on all three.  No doubt he was tired from going ten of nineteen from the three point line. Plus, thirty two points is a pretty good night.

Iona would actually go up by as many as forty one points before they settled for a 95-59 win.  They didn't get their one hundred points.  But the designated home team dominated Siena in front of a large New York City hoops loving crowd that was starving for made baskets after the first game of the evening.

The Gaels were a mind boggling seventeen of thirty nine from beyond the arc.  The nation's leading assist team had twenty one assists on the night, nine by Scott Machado and seven by Jones, who had fourteen points. Jenkins had sixteen points and Glover ended up with ten.  Siena was led by Evan Hines, who scored twenty two points and OD Anosuke had twelve points and thirteen rebounds.  After hitting seven of their first ten shots, the Saints only hit sixteen of their last fifty three shots.

As the crowd exited the Garden late last night, they witnessed another record breaking performance.  But it wasn't by a Power Six conference team player.  It was the "mid major power" who had the three point virtuoso who broke two records on the night.   Quite a feat in the World's Most Famous Arena.

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