Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Iona Drubs St Peter's Twice (Recap of St Peter's - Iona Doubleheader)

After we watched Stony Brook win the America East Regular Season Championship, my older son Matthew and I exited Pritchard Gym while the players were still hoisting the America East Regular Season Championship trophy.  We made our way to the car and headed out for the long trip to New Rochelle for the last regular season games for the women's and men's teams.  The trip took a little more than a hour, thanks to lighter than usual Sunday traffic and a little bit of a lead foot by yours truly.

Matthew was wise enough to have slept the entire trip. I had to wake him as I parked our car in the Iona garage. After Matthew stretched, we walked to the Hynes Center.  Iona was hosting St Peter's in a Senior Day doubleheader.  The women's game was first and the men's game would follow a hour later.

When we walked into the gym, the women's game was already in the second half with the Gaels up eight, 39-31 with about sixteen minutes left.   But as basketball is a game of runs, the Peahens went on a 11-4 spurt in the next four minutes.  Iona was only up one, 43-42 with about twelve minutes left and Iona Women's Head Coach Tony Bozzella was not too pleased.

But what was going to be a microcosm of the men's game, the Gaels outscored the Peahens 31-7 the rest of the way, which included a game ending 16-0 run.  St Peter's missed their last eight shots and committed two turnovers in that span.  Meanwhile, Iona hit eighteen of their twenty free throw attempts in the second half.   The Gaels' Women's team won the first half of the doubleheader 74-49.

Matthew and I joined Coach Bozzella, his family, my friend Mal and his friend Emilie for the Senior Day Dinner at a reception room in the Hynes Center.  It was a nice event where Coach Bozzella briefly spoke about  how his group of seniors were such helpful mentors to the freshmen and sophomores on the team,  He spoke how this team was a family and he thanked all the parents and people who have supported the team during the season.  It was a nice reception.

We left the reception and headed back into the Hynes Center Gym several minutes after what was supposed to be the start of the game.  Much to my surprise, the Senior Day awards ceremony for the six seniors on the Iona Men's Basketball Team was still taking place.   When we got to our seats, all the way up in the top rows of the general admission side of the gym, Scott Machado was being introduced last to the packed crowd.

After Machado was given a standing ovation by nearly the entire crowd, the six Iona players; Machado, Michael Glover, Randy Dezouvre, Kyle Smyth, Jermel Jenkins and Trinity Fields all raised their framed jerseys while photographers snapped picture after picture.  Then the Iona Bagpipe Band came out, which was a nice treat for this Irishman.   Finally, to top it off, Scott Machado's brother sang a wonderful rendition of the national anthem.

The Gaels spotted the Peahens a 4-0 lead.  A Glover dunk and a Momo Jones three put Iona up to stay 5-4.  But St Peter's kept it close throughout the first half.  The score was only 17-14 when Jenkins hit three consecutive three pointers in a row to give the Gaels a 26-17 lead.  But the Peahens refused to go away in the first half and actually cut the deficit to five, 40-35 at halftime.

As I noted earlier, Matthew and I were in the upper rows of the general admission seating opposite the Iona bench.  One of the perks though of sitting in that section was being directly behind my favorite pep band in New York college hoops, the Iona Pep Band.   The pep band was killing it at halftime playing "Sussudio", "Brickhouse", some Led Zeppelin, then "Frankenstein" and more Led Zeppelin.  Later on, they made my day by playing the theme song to the old TV show "The Wild, Wild West".

The first four plus minutes of the second half saw very little change.  Iona had pulled out to an eleven point lead.  But St Peter's was able to cut the lead back to seven, 50-43 with a little less than sixteen minutes left.  At the under sixteen media timeout,  the pep band played the James Bond theme song.  Perhaps the pep band knew that the Gaels were about to use their "License to Kill" on the Peahens.

It started innocently enough with two Sean Armand free throws.  Then it was a three point play by Machado, followed by layups by Dezouvre and Glover.  Jones followed up with a three point play, then an Armand went back to back with a three pointer followed by an old fashioned three point play.  Before you knew it, Iona was up 68-43.

But the Gaels weren't done yet.  Another three point play by Jones was sandwiched between two Glover layups.  Jenkins once again found his three point shooting touch and buried another two shots from beyond the arc. It was a 31-0 run before Lamin Fulton ended it with a three pointer.  The Gaels were up 81-46 with still eight and a half minutes to go in the game.

It turns out that many fans, knowing that the game was over, actually left at this time.  Matthew and I were able to move down several rows and get a better view of the last few minutes of the game. All that was left was for Iona Coach Tim Cluess to take his seniors out one by one.  Then I just needed the pep band to play "Peg"  to make my night complete.  Sure enough, late in the second half, the band cued up my favorite Steely Dan song.

Iona took its foot off the throttle down the stretch, despite pleas from Matthew for the Gaels to score one hundred points.  Iona just missed, winning handily 98-61.  In a rarely seen nice touch, Cluess let Smyth, a key player and a starter for most of the season, stay on the court and dribble out the last few seconds of the game.

The beat down of St Peter's was perhaps a little payback for the Peahens knocking the Gaels off in the MAAC Championship game last season.  But that was a much better St Peter's team than the 5-25 team I saw Sunday evening.  In the college basketball world, things can turn around quickly in a year.

Jenkins, in his last regular season home game scored a career high twenty one points on seven three pointers. Jones led Iona with twenty four points, while Glover and Armand each had fourteen.  Machado nearly had another double double with nine points and twelve assists.  Darius Conley led three St Peter's players in double figures with twelve points.

As Matthew and I made our way out of the Hynes Center for perhaps the last time this season, I wondered two things.  One, I thought about whether Iona could not only win the MAAC Championship but also make a run to the Sweet Sixteen this season.  Second, I wondered if the Iona Pep Band hires themselves out to play at parties.

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