Before we could get to the campus of Iona, we had to travel in rainy, slick conditions as the remnants of the Saskatchewan Screamer came down on the New York City metro area. Adding to the fun was a knucklehead on the Whitestone Bridge who kept alternating between the left and center lanes at seemingly his whim. Either he was very drunk or very clueless. I was one of several people that went all the way over to the right lane to avoid him.
Of course Matthew, the intrepid little six year old that he is, wisely took the opportunity to sleep the entire way from North Bellmore to New Rochelle. Thus he snoozed while his daddy was yelling at the idiot that was trying to turn the Whitestone into a NASCAR wreck. Matthew didn't wake up until we were in the Iona parking garage. Had I known that the Iona Will Call was not open yet, I would have let him sleep another fifteen minutes. But he was as excited as me to see this game last night.
The Hynes Center was packed to the rim. As I surveyed the gym shortly before the team introductions, it was a college basketball fan's dream. Over two thousand people tightly fit into a small gym. A mostly partisan crowd buzzing with the anticipation of another MAAC regular season championship, which would lead to another banner being hung in a venue that has seen its share of basketball history. To say the Hynes Center was electric would be the understatement of the year.
One of the things I have often noticed about the Hynes Center is that as much as I love the Iona folks, the PA volume is much too loud. It's like that at a lot of college gyms and arenas, but outside of the obnoxiously loud Spiro Athletic Center PA system, the Hynes Center PA system seems to stick out. So it was ironic during the introductions that one of the speakers kept going out. It was the brass band gods trying to tell the Iona folks that they have a perfectly good pep band and they should just turn off the system and let the pep band play.
First, the band fired up a Stevie Wonder tune. Then they went into Frankenstein. It's one of my favorite renditions of that song. For such a small band; they have maybe at most eight to ten members, the sound they put out is just so good.
While waiting for the start of the game, several of us were keeping track of the Loyola - Rider game that was on ESPN2. Novar Gadson hit a three point play late in the game and the Broncs knocked off the Greyhounds. That meant if the Gaels defeated the Stags here, Iona would clinch the MAAC regular season championship.
After a Michael Glover three point play made the score 9-7 Fairfield, a short time later we had the under sixteen minute media timeout. This led to the Iona Pep Band playing Rick James "Brickhouse". The band was on a roll and a Stags player was about to go on a roll as well.
As soon as the teams left the court, I heard the first few sweet chords from the pep band and I knew the song . Yes, the Iona Pep Band came through and played Steely Dan's "Peg". I had won the bet with Jaden but I told him I was going to take him to a Hofstra game anyway. Just hearing my favorite Iona Pep Band song was victory enough for me.
Coming off the timeout, the Stags extended the lead to 21-13. But the Gaels sped up the pace of the game to their liking and scored the next six points. That got the home Iona crowd going. Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson was forced to call timeout. This led to the pep band playing the James Bond Theme Song.
Fairfield would respond as they outscored Iona 10-4 for the rest of the half. It might have been more, but a good move by Iona Head Coach Tim Cluess kept the deficit at five. During Scott Machado's free throw attempts with five seconds left in the half, Cluess gathered the rest of the players by the Iona bench. I had a good view of Cluess making a hacking motion with his hand. He was telling his players to foul a Stags' player immediately since the Gaels had only five team fouls.
After Machado missed his second free throw and Fairfield grabbed the rebound, Kyle Smyth grabbed at Sanders to foul him. But instead Smyth knocked the ball off Sanders and out of bounds. Iona had a last second chance to hit a shot before the half, but Smyth's long three point attempt was short. Fairfield entered the half up 38-33.
In his sophomore season, Hill was supposed to play in a tournament in Owensboro, Kentucky vs. the University of Mississippi. The Ole Miss coach, Bonnie Graham, informed the tournament committee that he would not have his team play the Gaels if Hill, an African American, was in the lineup. Graham had the support of the University of Mississippi administration. Iona coach Jim McDermott refused to bench his guard and Ole Miss forfeited the game. In a touching moment, the Ole Miss players sought out Hill at the hotel that night and apologized to him for what happened. The ceremony for Hill at halftime, which included several other Iona basketball alumni, was equally as touching.
The second half saw Fairfield jump out to a 42-34 lead. But Iona would go on a 10-0 run over the next three minutes. Reserve Rashad James provided a lot of energy off the bench for the Gaels. His steal and layup gave Iona a 44-42 lead with about fifteen minutes left. The Hynes Center was now rocking.
Fairfield wasn't going anywhere and why would they with such great music. The Stags hung in with the Gaels and took a 58-56 lead with eight minutes left. Sean Crawford gave them the lead as he calmly sunk three free throws after being fouled by Taaj Ridley.
hen the sophomore guard set an Iona and MAAC record for most three pointers in a game with ten in a 95-59 drubbing of Siena. Armand would channel his Siena performance by burying two straight three pointers to give Iona a 62-56 lead and the Iona fans a reason to cheer raucously. Meanwhile, the Pep Band played the NBA on NBC theme song and later the Fox Sports theme song during a stop in the action.
Fairfield again wouldn't quit and scored the next seven points. A Desmond Wade three pointer put Fairfield back up one, 63-62 with about six minutes left. Also during this run, Iona's star guard, Scott Machado picked up his fourth foul and and headed to the bench. There was definitely a level of concern running through the Hynes Center crowd.
Armand scored all seventeen of his points in the second half. As impressive as his performance was against Siena, his performance against Fairfield was more impressive. With Machado on the bench, Armand took over and won the game for his team. His three point jumper is a thing of beauty.
As for Iona, along with Armand's seventeen points, Glover had thirteen points and Machado had ten points and seven assists. The key was that the Gaels had more balance than the Stags. Eight players had six or more points for Iona while only four Fairfield players including Needham had six or more points.
The Gaels and their fans expect their court rush to be after they win the MAAC Tournament Championship in Springfield. It's good to have standards. I know the Iona Pep Band meets mine.