twelve Iona men's basketball games. There is no more fun team to watch live in Division I College Basketball than the Iona Gaels. Yes, I said that and mean that.
What makes Iona fun is their type of play. Under Head Coach Tim Cluess, they are disciples of Paul Westhead, the "Guru of Go" and his type of play known as "The System". It's based on simple math - More Possessions + More Shot Attempts = More Points.
The Gaels' last season went 25-8 and made the NCAA Tournament as an at large. They held a twenty five points lead vs. BYU before the Cougars rallied to defeat the Gaels 78-72. It was the first time Iona had made the NCAA Tournament since 2006. Going into yesterday's game, Cluess' record at Iona is 55-25 through two and a third seasons and has won twenty five games in each of his first two seasons.
This season, the Gaels are eleventh in the country this season in scoring points at eighty one points per game and are in the top one hundred in most offensive categories, including third in the country in free throw percentage at 79.3 percent. They are first in the MAAC in field goal percentage at 45.3 percent and first in the MAAC in assists per game at 15.6 assists. Momo Jones and Sean Armand, key members of last season's NCAA Tournament team, are first and third in the MAAC in scoring - Jones averaging 22.2 points per game and Armand 18.8 points per game.
So on Festivus, you had two NCAA Tournament teams playing each other. And the 1,855 in attendance that nicely packed the Hynes Center in New Rochelle were in for a treat. A treat that Iona gave its fans four times last season (and I saw two of those games).
Enter one David Laury. The highly regarded Laury is a sophomore who just became eligible one game prior to yesterday. The highly talented six foot eight forward scored twenty one points and had fourteen rebounds in a loss to LaSalle and was making his Iona home game debut.
Williams responded for Norfolk State with two three pointers to cut the lead to six, 25-19. But again Laury proved to be unstoppable as he scored on his second three point play of the day and the lead was back to nine 28-19. It would be part of a 10-0 Iona run capped by an A.J. English three pointer and the Gaels were up 35-19 with five and a half minutes left in the half. The lead would be extended even further to 41-24 with a little over two minutes left in the half.
So it stood to reason that Norfolk State would get back in the game with an 7-2 spurt in less than a minute to cut the lead to twelve, 43-31. But there was that man Laury, who again hit another layup to put Iona up fourteen, 45-31 to end the half. Laury already had twelve first half points.
During halftime, there was a girls' basketball game being played. After one of the girls airballed a wide open jumper, my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew commented "I would have hit that". Shortly thereafter, Guy Falotico, an Iona alum known as @IonaGuyF on Twitter, joined us and we talked during the first half. Guy knows my love of the Pep Band and when Walt and the boys started up "I Dream of Jeannie", I had to stop and tweet the news, which gave Guy a good laugh. Later on the great Nick Guerriero, assistant SID for Iona and play by play voice for the women's basketball team stopped by to say hi. It's always good to see the folks at Iona.
Norfolk State had slowly whittled the Iona lead back to fourteen, 67-53 with ten minutes left. But the Gaels would outscore the Spartans 24-8 over the next five minutes. This is when Armand starting find his rhythm from beyond the arc, nailing three three pointers. Tre Bowman capped the run with a three pointer of his own and Iona was up 91-61 with five minutes left.
Jones led all scorers with twenty four points, five assists and was a perfect twelve for twelve from the foul line. Laury had twenty points and seven rebounds. Armand had twelve points as he shot four of eight from beyond the arc. He also added seven points, three assists and two steals. Sledge had twelve points and eight rebounds and Taaj Ridley had ten points and nine rebounds.
With the win Iona moved to 6-5 on the year. Matthew had his one hundred points. Jonathan had a good time watching the game and I had another fond memory of the Hynes Center.
Special Thanks to Jamie Fogarty, Senior Associate AD at Iona, for her help on Sunday. Very much appreciated.