Monday, December 24, 2012

One Hundred Reasons to Watch Iona (Recap of Norfolk State vs. Iona)

Last season, I had the pleasure of covering live 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.

Last season's team was an offensive juggernaut.  The Gaels scored 82.9 points per game and shot fifty percent from the field on the season. Yes, that's not a typo. Fifty percent. Iona also averaged 19.3 assists per game.  The man responsible for most of those assists at 9.9 assists per game, Scott Machado, now plays for the NBA's Houston Rockets.

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.

Yesterday, I took my two sons, Matthew and Jonathan, appropriately dressed in Iona gear and made the drive up to New Rochelle. Surprisingly, despite several crazy shopper drivers on the road, there was only the usual Sunday afternoon traffic. We made good time until the usual backlog starting at Exit Nine on the Hutchinson River Parkway.  Yes, the traffic was for Exit Thirteen, the Cross County/Saw Mill River Parkway exit, which has been that way since the dawn of the highway.  One thing I don't miss living about in South Carolina is New York traffic and I laugh when people in the Palmetto State complain about traffic, which seriously pales in comparison to the Big Apple.

At the Hynes Center, the Gaels were hosting another NCAA Tournament team from a season ago, Norfolk State.  The Spartans knocked off #2 seed Missouri in the second round of the tournament in March and won twenty six games last season.  Norfolk State also has their own NBA player in Kyle O' Quinn.  Quinn, who was the Spartans' leading scorer last season and had twenty six points and fourteen rebounds  in the win over Missouri, plays for the Orlando Magic.  The Spartans third leading scorer from last season, Pendarvis Williams, leads Norfolk State with 15.3 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).

One of the reasons I believe Iona entered the season at 5-5 is that despite the scoring of Jones and Armand, they lacked the inside scoring presence they had last season with Michael Glover. Glover was their leading scorer in the 2011-12 season averaging 18.3 points per game. Glover required a double team and that opened up passing lanes and other Gaels for open threes or the drive to the basket.

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.

After Norfolk State jumped out to 4-0 lead, Laury wasted no time making an impact. He scored five of the first twelve Iona points off assists from Da'Shawn Gomez.  His three point play gave the Gaels a 12-6 lead with fourteen and half minutes left in the half.  Laury then extended the lead to ten points, 23-13 on another layup with ten a half minutes.

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.

The other main reason Iona has been a .500 team this season is their defense, or lack thereof.  Entering yesterday's game, Iona was next to last in the MAAC in scoring defense, giving up 75.8 points per game.  The Gaels are 251st in the country in effective field goal percentage defense at 51.1 percent.

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.

One of the great things about going to Iona men's home games is the wonderful Iona Pep Band.  The pep band started the day with a jazzy version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Then later, they played some Stevie Wonder and Walk this Way by Aerosmith.  But it would be the Pep Band if they didn't play "Peg" by Steely Dan.  After an emphatic block by Laury led to an under twelve media timeout in the first half, the band fired up a version that Donald Fagin would be proud of and which I tweeted to Jaden Daly who was out covering the Fordham game.

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.

The start of the second half saw Iona extend their lead to nineteen, 56-37.  Laury had five points during this time, including his third three point play of the day.  But Jones was the second half scoring force for the Gaels. He would score sixteen second half points.

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.

This is when Matthew turned to me and said he wanted to see Iona score one hundred points.  And sure enough, Nyandigisi Moikobu nailed a three pointer with thirty eight seconds left.  There were no coupons for free tacos but the Gaels sent their fans home happy with a 100-72 win.

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.

Williams, Rashid Gaston and Zieyik Estime all scored in double figures and combined for forty of Norfolk State's seventy two points.   The Spartans were twelve of twenty nine from beyond the arc.Williams and Estime each had four three pointers.

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.

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