Sunday, March 10, 2013

Iona Moves To Finals, Niagara Looks Forward To NIT

Iona's reputation is as an offensive-minded team more than willing to trade baskets and pick up victories by its sheer volume of points.

But, in its MAAC men's tournament semifinal-round 79-73 victory over top-seeded Niagara, it was as much a defensive mind-set that helped the Gaels get to Monday's 9 p.m. championship contest.

"We wanted to concentrate on their two better players (sophomore guards Juan'ya Green and Antoine Mason) and let the rest of their guys beat us if they could," said Iona coach Tim Cluess. "Fortunately they weren't able to do that."

Mason did score 21 points against the 19-13 Gaels, but only shot 6-of-18 from the floor. Green managed only 11 points on 5-of-17 shooting, including 0-for-7 from three-point range.

There was more than that, though, that helped Iona get past Niagara.

The winners held a huge edge on the boards, 45-32, spearheaded by 6-foot-8 center David Laury's 17 rebounds and 20 points, mostly from close range.

The Purple Eagles also played without starting freshman point guard Tahjere McCall, who is second on the team in assists and is a strong perimeter defender but missed Sunday's contest after suffering an apparent knee injury in the quarterfinal round game a day earlier.

"There are excuses and there are facts, and the fact is that our starting point guard couldn't play," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "He gives us 20-to-23 minutes of terrific defense every game and allows Juan'ya Green to play a lot of time off the ball. We missed him a lot."

It meant Green had to play the full 40 minutes at the point, and Niagara's perimeter shooting might have suffered because of it. The Purple Eagles took 33 of their 69 shots in the game from beyond the bonus stripe and made just seven of them (21.2 percent).

Will Mihalich wonder about his team's inclination to rely on long-range shooting Sunday?

"I'm sure that I'll be staring at the ceiling thinking about 1,000 different things, and that will be one of them," said the Niagara coach. "But, the other thing is that we could have made more of them. A lot of times the right guys were taking the right shots. If we had just made a few more of them ...

While Iona still has a game to play in this event, Niagara's season will continue, too.

The National Invitation Tournament awards an automatic berth to the MAAC's regular-season champion (Niagara this year) if it doesn't capture its conference's post-season event and that automatic bid to the NCAA's.

"The NIT ... it's fantastic," said Mihalich. "We've got the 40th youngest team in the country, and it's just incredible to know we're going to the NIT. We're heartbroken now but we'll wake up in a day or two and be thrilled to death (by the prospect of playing in the NIT). That's an incredible accomplishment for this team.

"Iona was the better team today, but my emotions are with my team. I could not be more proud of a group of guys. We're still very young and probably didn't have any business winning 13 regular-season league games... but we did. Our dream this weekend was to cut down the nets here. But, to be in the NIT is something to be proud of.

"It's hard to be disappointed because of that, but I am. our hearts are broken now. But, at the same time, we know a lot of guys have their hearts broken like this and, then, put the uniforms away. We still have the opportunity to play in a special tournament."


edward bobak said...

Congratulations to the Purple Eagles Young Team for a great regular season....Hope the coach stays w/ Niagara next year...

Steve Amedio said...

Don't think the coach is going anywhere. Purple Eagles should be every bit as good next season.