Sunday, March 6, 2011

Men's Title Matchup Is A Friendly Rivalry

Iona's senior guard Rashon Dwight and Saint Peter's senior guard Wesley Jenkins were teammates as high school players at Bloomfield Tech in Newark, N.J. They have been teammates on AAU teams and always on the same side in playground pick-up contests.

They're not the only friends from the two programs that will meet in Monday's 7 p.m. championship game of the men's MAAC tournament. Saint Peter's has nine players on its roster from New Jersey cities across the Hudson River not far from New York City's skyline. Iona has four, plus five other players from New York City's five boroughs. In all, 18 players from the two teams grew up no more than a few miles removed from each other.

It's familiarity, though, that has bred anything but contempt. Instead, it's as friendly a rivalry as one can imagine.

The cordial relationships were enough that the players from the two teams have been mixing with each other, renewing acquaintances, in the Bridgeport, Ct., hotel at which both teams are sharing.

In fact, the two teams are staying on the hotel's same floor.

"After we won our quarterfinal round game (Saturday night) and came back to the hotel, Saint Peter's players (who had won their quarterfinal-rounder earlier in the day) came out of their rooms to cheer for us."

But, that's not the whole story, as Iona coach Tim Cluess was quick to interject at Sunday's post-game press conference after his team's semifinal-round victory over Rider to advance to Monday's championship contest.

"We're on one end of the floor and their team is on the other end of the floor," said Cluess. "So when they were all out in the hallway, they had a 'dance-off.' "

Who won that contest?

"Oh, we did," said Dwight.

The symbolism isn't lost on Monday's championship game participants. There's a trip to the NCAA tournament, the so-called Big Dance of college basketball, on the line.

So, who's going to be dancing after Monday night's game?

"Hopefully, it will be us," said Dwight. "May the best team win. I hope it will be us. But, if it's not, I'll be happy for them, too. We're all friends and we're all like family.'

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