Midway through the second half of Iona's game against Purdue in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament, ESPN3's color commentator Doug Gottlieb attempted to put the competitiveness of the game in context.
"This is like a 5 (seed) playing a 12 (seed) in a first-round NCAA tournament game," said Gottlieb.
The guess here is that Gottlieb meant the analogy to be complimentary to Iona. In truth, though, it was more like a snub. By the time it was over it looked a lot closer than that, like a No. 8 vs. a No. 9.
Purdue, expected to contend in the high-major Big 10 Conference and rated 27th nationally in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll, snuck past the Gaels, 91-90, and needed a big play on its part and a mistake by Iona in the closing seconds to survive.
The Boilermaker led 88-84 wit two minnutes left, and the Gaels were playing without their superb senior point guard Scott Machado (14 points, 11 assists), who fouled out at the 2:51 mark.
And, then, Iona came back to take a 90-88 lead when LaMont "Momo" Jones converted a fast beak 12-footer with 33 seconds left.
Purdue countered with some solid screening that freed its All-America candidate Robbie Hummel for a three-point bucket that gave it a 91-90 edge with 15.1 seconds left.
Without Machado to run things, the ball went back to Jones for Iona's last chance. The junior transfer from Arizona drove the right side, hounded by a double-team of defenders. When his route to the basket was cut off, he made an off-balance and dangerous baseline pass from one side of the lane to the other.
It was an easy steal fo Purdue. Iona was forced to foul, and even though the resultant two foul shots were both missed, there were just 2.2 seconds remaining wen Iona in-bounded the ball, leaving just enough time to get it near half court where Kyle Smythe put up an under-pressure one-hander that was wide at the buzzer.
Mostly the Gaels did everything but win, proving themselves on par, on a neutral court, with an opponent that is on the cusp of a national Top 25 ranking.
On a local note, Doug Sherman, who does TV sports in the Albany area and also serves as the play-by-play voice of MAAC basketball, called the game for ESPN3 and exhibited an expert's grasp of the Gaels, as would have been expected.
Gottlieb, on the othe hand, made one noteable slip. Midway though the second half, after a successful pick-and-roll play from Machado to forward Mike Glover, Gottlieb said "They've made a living on that play in their previous three years together."
Although Machado and Glover are both seniors, this is only Glover's second season as a Gael after two years playing on the junior college level.
Sherman graciously waited several minutes before eventually noting that "Glover is playing just his second season at Iona."
ALSO OF NOTE: Machado's 11 assists against Purdue made him Iona's career leader in that statistic. He passed Iona Hall of Famer Rory Grimes (Class of 1985), who had been No. 1 on that list with 558 career assists. Machado, who finished second nationally in assists-per-game average (7.6) last season, now has 564 for his Iona career.