Thursday, March 31, 2011

Santa Clara Downs Iona and Wins the 2011 CIT Championship

It's very difficult for a team to travel all the way from the West Coast to New York, then play well in a hostile environment.  That was the task that Santa Clara had last night in New Rochelle as Iona hosted the championship game of the College Insider Tournament (CIT).  The Gaels were home to a near capacity crowd and were heavy favorites coming into the game.  Someone though forgot to tell the long distance traveling Broncos that.

For my son Matthew, it was his second straight Iona game in a row.  He had gone to the quarterfinal game at the Hynes Center where Iona downed Buffalo.  After a dinner of McDonald's french fries, he was ready to watch some basketball, along with my friends Tony, Mal, Tony Bozzella, and Assistant Iona Women's Coach Lauren Defalco.

Before the game started, Iona brought out its bagpipe band, which was really neat.  I just wished they had brought out the team to the music of the bagpipe band.  That would have been electric.  Still, Iona was pulling out all the stops for this event.  They had a local Army color guard, the bagpipe band, a very nice, but very long a cappella rendition of the national anthem and of course the Madison Square Garden like team introduction.

Say what you want about the CIT, but both teams really wanted to win that trophy.  For Iona, it would be a bit of redemption after losing in the MAAC Championship game to St Peter's, a game they were heavily favored in after sweeping the Peacocks in the regular season.  For Santa Clara, a relatively young team with their two best players being junior Marc Trasolini and sophomore Kevin Foster, this was a chance to build on a successful 20 win plus season.

The game started out with Iona coming out in its usual press and that threw Santa Clara off balance early.  The Broncos missed five of their first six shots and turned the ball over three times in the first five and half minutes. Santa Clara's best player, Foster, airballed his first two three point attempts.  Meanwhile Iona's best player, Glover, was a man on a mission.  He scored seven of the Gaels first sixteen points.  Iona was up early 16-8 with 12 minutes left in the first half.  However, there was an underlying story developing that favored Santa Clara and they just needed to capitalize on it.

The Broncos called a timeout after eight minutes of action, followed by an official TV timeout.  And the Broncos responded strongly from the timeouts with a huge run.  It was fueled by the underlying story, Santa Clara's decided advantage on the boards, especially the offensive glass.  After failing to take advantage of their rebounding in the first eight minutes, the Broncos were now getting points off second opportunities.  During Santa Clara's 22-3 run over seven minutes, the Broncos scored seven of their points off offensive rebounds while limiting the Gaels to 1 of 10 shooting and one offensive rebound over that span.   Mr. Momentum had a change of address and Santa Clara was up 30-19 with 5:09 left after a Ben Dowdell three point play.

Meanwhile, Iona inexplicably went away from its bread and butter in Glover.  Over the last twelve minutes of the first half, Glover only had two field goal attempts, hitting one of them and hitting one of two free throws.  And it wasn't like Santa Clara was double teaming him.  The Gaels just didn't get him the ball and settled for three point jumpers.  Sean Armand buried his third three pointer of the half to cut the lead to six, 33-27.  A Glover free throw actually then got it down to five.   But Michael Santos hit a tip in for Santa Clara, and Foster, who at the time only had five points, buried a Charles Jenkins like 35 foot three pointer (as noted by Defiantly Dutch in a tweet) at the buzzer. The Broncos were back up by ten at the half, 38-28.

When the second half started, the Gaels stormed out of the locker room with a 6-0 mini-spurt resulting in a Broncos timeout.  The Iona Pep Band kept the mojo going with my favorite song of theirs, Steely Dan's Peg (as I responded to a Defiantly Dutch tweet as "A HUGE WIN!").  Iona kept the streak going with two Scott Machado layups, the second of which tied the game at forty all with fifteen and half minutes remaining.  The partisan crowd roared in approval and perhaps as Beach noted, the Broncos legs were starting to get weary from the long trip out to New York.

But just when we all thought Iona had the momentum, Santa Clara quickly answered, again using their offensive rebounding to their advantage.  On the next possession, the Broncos got THREE offensive rebounds, the last resulting in a Trasolini three pointer (Trasolini had just previously scored a tip in shot after another three offensive rebound possession).  Ray Cowels buried a three and then Trasolini scored another putback off a miss by Foster.  Before you blinked an eye, Santa Clara was back up eight, 48-40 in not even two minutes.

Glover and Armand did their best to rally the troops for Iona and got the score within five, 55-50 with a chance to cut the lead even further.  But Scott Machado, who had a very off shooting night missed an open three and the Broncos scored to go back up seven.   Iona had simply no answer in stopping Santa Clara.  Foster scored five straight points and the Broncos had their biggest lead with 7:11 left, 65-51.

The Gaels made one last run and it was their bread and butter, Glover leading the way.  He scored seven of Iona's sixteen points and the Gaels had it down to six, 73-67 with 1:21 left.  But Iona decided not to foul Santa Clara immediately on their next possession until it was too late.  Dowdell was fouled as he hit a layup.  The three point play gave the Broncos their final points of the game and Iona would only score two more points.  Santa Clara won the CIT Championship 76-69.

Foster led five Broncos' players in double figures with 16 points, despite shooting 6 of 20 from the field. Trasolini was the thorn in Iona's side with 12 points and 8 rebounds, 6 on the offensive end.  Santa Clara outrebounded Iona 50-33 with 17 rebounds coming from the offensive end.   Glover did everything he could leading all scorers with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks.  But he only had eleven FG attempts, making seven while shooting eight of twelve from the line.  What hurt Iona was Machado and Jenkins, their second and fourth leading scorers combining to shoot 5 of 22 including 0 of 7 from beyond the arc.  The nation's 19th best team in FG percentage at 47.4% only shot 41.8 % from the field.

We only briefly stayed for the awarding of the championship trophies.  When I saw them, I'll be honest, I thought they looked like things made in a woodshop class.  Still if you were the Broncos, the championship trophy means a lot to an up and coming team.

The six of us hung out for a little while and eventually Defiantly Dutch caught up with us as well.  As we normally do, we ended up talking about the game. A lot of the talk centered around the rebounding differential and how Glover didn't get the ball enough.

Then it was on our way back home to Long Island.  Matthew wolfed down a bag of goldfish, drank a bottle of water and fell asleep in the back seat of our Honda CRV within 15 minutes.  When we got home around midnight, I carried him upstairs and put him in his bed.  It had been a long day for my oldest son, but he loves his basketball and he had been a good little trooper.

For me, it was the 41st and last live college basketball game I would see this season.  Yes, there is still the NIT Championship and the Final Four, so certainly the college basketball season is not over.  But those four games will be watched on TV.  My live college basketball season ended last night.

As it has for the last several years, it ended all too soon.

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