Saturday, March 9, 2013

Iona Men Finally Win a Close One, At The Right Time

After a 3-6 finish to regular-season play that saw all six losses by three points or less (three by a single point), it only seemed about time for the Iona men's team to win a close contest.

And, that couldn't have come at a better time ... in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC's post-season tournament as the Gaels held off numerous late-game Canisius comeback attempts to earn an 89-85 victory Saturday at the MassMutual Center.

"I'm proud of our guys to be able to win a game like that," said Gaels' coach Tim Cluess.

Iona guard Sean Armand was asked if he and his teammates had learned anything from the late-season series of last-second losses.

"It was an extending learning period," said Armand. "But, it's coming along. As much frustration as there was, you've just got to learn to get stronger. I kept telling the guys not to feel sorry for ourselves, to keep working ... and, we kept working."

Iona worked both hard and effectively against Canisius, creating some daylight after the Golden Griffins pulled to within a point, 78-77, with 2:59 remaining.

Iona's senior guard Momo Jones then converted a layup to extend the lead to three, Canisius missed a shot and forward Taj Ridley made another driving layup and resultant free throw for the winners to push their edge to six.

Canisius couldn't get closer to three again in the contest.

Jones, battling illness ("I don't know what I have, but whatever it is it don't feel good, I can tell you that," he said), finished with 33 points, while Armand added 24.

The winners, outscored from the field by a 72-55 margin, made that ground up with aggressive offensive play that earned it frequent trips to the foul line. There, Iona converted 34-of-40 while Canisius made just 12-of-21 attempts.

"We talked about stepping in to take the charge (rather than reaching in to stop Iona drives, a tactic that resulted in numerous foul calls against the Griffs)," said Canisius coach Jim Baron. "The last thing we put up on our (locker room) board was `rebound and defense.' The last time we played Iona, that's how we beat them (by a 77-74 score on Feb. 2) ... with rebounding and defense."

But, not on Saturday as the 89 points allowed was the second-highest total given up by the Griffs this year. Ironically, the highest total by an opponent this year was also recorded by Iona in a 97-87 Gaels' victory in mid-January.

"Still ... overall this has been a hell of a year for us," added Baron. "To go from one league victory last season  to 11 this season was incredible. We beat everyone else in the league at least once. And, to go from five overall victories last season to 18 this year .. well, we still have some post-season aspirations (to one of the minor men's tournaments). These guys deserve that."

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