Saturday, March 5, 2011

Men: Iona Could Regain Prominence

The Iona men's basketball was enjoying its quarterfinal round victory in the MAAC men's tournament Saturday not merely because it remained alive to play another day, but because of who it knocked off to do so.

It beat the conference's most-recent dominant team, Siena, the program that had won the past three regular-season and post-season titles; the team with three straight trips to the NCAA tournament and three national-tournament game victories over that time.

"To do this against them (a 94-64 victory)... it's Siena," said Iona swingman Kyle Smyth. "They've been the dominant team in the conference for the past three years. To play this well against a good Siena team means a lot."

The victory sends the Gaels to Sunday's 4 p.m. semifinal round game against the winner of Saturday's late-night Rider-Canisius contest.

It wasn't that long ago that Iona was the conference's dominant team. The program had been strong enough, at one time, for former Siena coach Paul Hewitt (at Siena from 1997-98 through 1999-2000) to have called Iona the standard that other teams measured itself against.

But not in recent years. Iona had not won a game in MAAC tournament play since the 2005-06 season. And, in that season, the Gaels captured the tournament championship to advance to the NCAA tournament.

"It's very important for us to get back to that again," said Iona's junior point guard Scott Machado. 'I talk to Marvin McCullough, Ricky Soliver and Steve Burtt (three key players on that 2005-06 team) a lot. They've talked to me about bringing our program back. They come around Iona, and they're all kind of mentors to me.

"If we keep working hard ... I think we've got the players and the coaching to get back there."

Iona took a step in the right direction Saturday over Siena, and in impressive fashion. The Saints had won their last 10 MAAC tournament games, matching a conference record also held by the La Salle teams of the late 1980s. Siena had won three games in each of the past three MAAC events, and added a play-in round victory over Manhattan on Friday night.

But Iona dominated the Saints Saturday, and did it with players who will be around for at least another season after this one.

Glover, an impressive 6-foot-7 inside force; and Machado, a standout point guard, are both juniors. Smythe, who has standout long-range shooting capabilities, is a sophomore.

Glover had 31 points and 11 rebounds against the Saints while Machado had 15 points and 8 rebounds and Smyth added 16 points.

Siena was with 43-40 early in the second half, but the winners outscored the Saints 51-24 over the final 17 minutes to pull away and win with ease as it appeared the effort Siena expended in its two-point play-in round victory the previous day (while Iona had a bye) had a residual affect.

"We played hard, but I thought we were a little slow to loose balls in the second half," said Saints' coach Mitch Buonaguro. 'I don't think we had our legs, and to play a team like Iona you have to be in full tilt."

The might have been another recent event that also had a lingering affect on Saturday's match.

Iona's Glover, who finished second in the conference in scoring and rebounding (categories Rossiter finished as the league leaders), said he felt slighted that Rossiter, and not him, was named the conference's Player of the Year.

"After not being nominated (picked) for Player of the Year ... I wanted to make tonight's game a little personal," admitted Glover."

Rossiter finished with 11 points and six rebounds in the contest. His rebound effort Saturday pushed his season total to 408, the second-highest one-year rebound total in conference history, behind only the 411 rebounds grabbed by former Rider standout Jason Thompson in the 2007-08 season.

"I couldn't be happier with the success I've had here at Siena," said Rossiter. "There are eight other classes (at other MAAC schools) that don't know what going to the NCAA tournament is like, and we've been there three times during my career."

No comments: