Wednesday, March 14, 2012

After Great Start, Gaels Hit Wall vs. BYU in NCAA's

Midway through the first half, the game's telecast analyst Clark Kellogg was calling what Iona was doing to BYU in its First Four round game of the NCAA tournament "like a Gael wind," and a "Blitzkrieg .... like (Iona) was playing on roller skates."

Indeed, it was the best of Iona for more than 15 minutes as it built a 25-point lead with just under six minutes left in the first half that was still a 24-point advantage, 55-31, slightly more than four minutes prior to the intermission.

That was the good Iona, which was immediately followed by an Iona performance over the final 24 minutes that was less good and more bad and ugly.

A 24-of-35 start from the field in which Iona looked very much like a Gael force and the team that led the nation in scoring was powered by energy, an effective pressure defense and an ability to create scores off a fast break fueled by turnovers.

And, then, BYU solved Iona's force.

The Cougars stopped turning the ball over with a more-under-control style that enabled it to get into its halfcourt offense and to get the ball inside to its big men where it had an advantage over Iona.

The reversal derailed Iona's up-tempo attack and forced the Gaels to try to create offense in a half-court situation against an effective BYU zone defense.

And, we've seen this one before. Iona squandered big early leads twice this season, jumping up on both Manhattan and Siena by 18-point advantages in games it ultimately lost.

But late Tuesday night in Dayton the stakes were raised and so was the size of the advantage.

After its 55-31 lead the Gaels went the last four 4:30 of the first half without a point and the final 24:30 of the game with just 17 points while shooting 7-of-35 (20 percent) from the field over the final 24:30.

BYU forward Noah Hartsock had 16 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, just one less than the entire Iona team.

The loss not only ends Iona's season, but also goes down as the greatest collapse in the history of the NCAA tournament.

BYU's rally from 25 points down surpassed the previously largest deficit overcome in an NCAA tournament game of 22, by Duke, in a 2001 semifinal-round victory over Maryland.

"When we're not making shots, it's kind of hard to be able to press like we were in the first half," Iona's senior point guard Scott Machado (15 points, 10 assists) told New York Daily News reporter Sean Brennan after the game. "It's hard for us to get stops at the (defensive) end because we're so small. (Hartstock) was just shooting right over us. I mean, it was hard to guard. And when we're not making shots, we can't press. We couldn't do what we did in the first half so it messed up our whole game plan."

To one watching the game from afar it appeared that Iona wasn't able to sustain its energy and quickness advantage beyond the game's first 15-plus minutes. And, it also appeared that Iona's general lack of height (Iona coach Tim Cluess claims his team is the third-smallest in the country and smaller than any team in the NCAA field) ultimately gave way to BYU's superior inside game.

"At the end of the game, they weren't as quick to the ball," confirmed BYU coach Dave Rose, to reporters on site.

And, so ends a second superlative season (25-8 overall this year and 50 total victories over the past two seasons) and one of the best two-year runs in the program's history.

But, it also ends with just one regular-season MAAC title over that time and a failure to capture the conference's post-season tournament in both years.

And, now, the Gaels move on without their best two players, senior guard Machado and 6-foot-7 senior forward Mike Glover.

"Me going out as a senior like this is pretty disappointing," Glover told reporters afterwards.

New York Post columnist Steve Serby did well in summing up  Iona's collapse and disappointment, closing his report this way:

"The heart of our guys got this one done," BYU coach Dave Rose told Serby.

The hearts of the other guys were breaking.

"It's going to be one that we have to live with the rest of our lives," added Iona coach Cluess.

1 comment:

Steve Amedio said...

C'mon ... 25 wins each of the past two seasons?
Almost any team in the country would take that.
Be realistic.