Sunday, March 9, 2014

Iona's Defense Stops Baron At End, Earns Title Game

Canisius' senior guard Billy Baron was the MAAC's best player this season, but he said he'd give up a million Player of the Year trophies for a single trip to the NCAA tournament.

Iona's late-game defense against the 6-foot-2 guard, though, ensured Baron would have to be satisfied with only the trophy for individual achievement.

With the Gaels clinging to a 70-68 lead with under three minutes later, their defensive late-game strategy became dedicating two defender to ensure Baron struggled to find his own shot.

The Golden Griffins' standout did make two free throws and got a nifty assist on a teammates' basket, but he misfired on the last three shots he took down the stretch, all well defended. but any of the three, if made, either would have given his team a lead or pulled it into a tie.

The last came at the buzzer without enough time remaining to get a better look than a 35-footer that came up a few feet short.

It was enough for Iona to hold off the pesky fourth-seeded Griffs, 75-72, and send the regular-season champion on to Monday's 7 p.m. championship contest.

"We have seen him be successful both in person and on film any number of times in late-game situations and we wanted to make sure he didn't beat us at the end in this game," said Iona coach Tim Cluess.

Baron, though, certainly got his team back into it before the late-game shutdown by the Gaels.

After Iona stretched a lead to 10, 70-60, with 4:`8 remaining, Baon connected on a three-pointer, two free throws and a fast-break layup to cut the disadvantage to 70-67. When teammate Chris Perez added a free throw, Iona's lead was 70-68 with 2:44 left.

Baron, though, then missed a 22-footer that would have given his team a lead, but his two free throws on the Griffs' next possession tied it at 70 with 1:28 remaining.

Iona's A.J. English then missed on a drive, but junior big man teammate David Laury grabbed the last, and biggest, of his game-high 12 rbounds and converted to give Iona a two-point margin.

Baron, trying yet again to shoot over Iona's double team of attention, misfired again.

Iona's Sean Armand sank one of two to push the lead to 73-70 with 28 seconds remaining, but Baron then found Chris Manhertz alone for a layup that trimmed the deficit back to one with 9.7 seconds remaining.

Canisius, though, took more than four seconds to foul after it missed stealing the in-bounds pass and when the Gaels' Trey Bowman made both foul shots Canisius only had five seconds to go the length of the court for a shot.

In inbounded to Baron, who rushed it up the right side but had to pull up from 35 feet out before time expired, and that shot fell several feet short.

"I'm honored that my teammates put their test in me the entire year, but now I feel like I let them down," said Baron, afterwards.

And, while Iona gets to play on Monday for a chance to go to the NCAA event, 21-12 Canisius surely also has more basketball left to play, albeit in a lesser post-season event.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

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