Having attended many concerts at Madison Square Garden in my lifetime, there is often an opening act before the headliner. The opening act is usually not that good, but the headliner more than makes up for that fact. And often, the headlining band has a solo performance, usually a virtuoso guitarist, who has the crowd buzzing in amazement. Such was the case in last night's Siena vs. Iona game.
Last night was a college basketball doubleheader at the World's Most Famous Arena. The opening game/act was your typical Power Six conference contest in which two teams, whose names will not be mentioned, decided to put on a brickfest for the first twenty minutes. The local Power Six conference team shot five of 35 from the field in the first half (14 percent), while the out-of-state team shot 34 percent to lead 29-18 at the half. The out-of-state team would eventually win by double digits.
Thankfully the headliner game, started shortly thereafter. As the public address announcer noted, the game featured "two mid-major powers". And the crowd, mainly made up of red for that local Power Six conference team, decided to stick around to see what the mid-major fuss was all about. After witnessing the headliner game myself, I am sure many in the audience were glad they stayed.
Two seasons ago, Siena was truly a "mid-major power". In 2009-10, the Saints would win their third straight MAAC conference championship and thus make their third straight NCAA appearance. During this period of dominance, the Siena would win two NCAA Tournament games.
But the nucleus of that team graduated after that 2009-10 season. Sensing that a rebuild was going to be in order, Fran McCaffery decided instead to grab a huge payday and take the Iowa head coaching position. Mitch Buonaguro got the head coaching position and struggled in his first season, as the Saints went 8-10 in conference, 13-18 overall. This season Siena has been about the same, 0-2 in conference and 5-7 overall entering the contest.
They were playing an Iona team coming off a surprising loss to Hofstra, 82-75. In that game, the Gaels had an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers in the first half, as they were down 15 at halftime and never could recover. Coach Tim Cluess took the responsibility for the loss, and they were looking to rebound in front of a large crowd on perhaps the world's largest stage.
The fans in attendance were actually pretty quiet at the start of the game. Siena actually came out on fire, taking an early 16-14 lead with about 14:30 left. The Saints hit seven of their first 10 shots. But the pace clearly favored their opponents, the Gaels, the team that is fourth in the country in scoring offense, averaging 85.5 points per game.
Iona would take advantage of that pace as they went on a 21-9 run, powered by five three-pointers, three by Jermel Jenkins and two by Momo Jones. The score was now 37-23 Gaels with 7:15 left in the first half. The audience was now fully into the headlining act. And they were about to get the virtuoso solo performance.
Iona's Sean Armand was one of Tim Cluess' highly touted recruits entering the 2010-11 season. He played about eleven minutes per game last season, averaging slightly over six points per game. With the graduation of Rashon Dwight, Armand appeared to be in line for a starting position this season. But Jones transferred from Arizona to Iona to be near his ailing grandmother and received a hardship waiver to be able to play this season.
As a result, Armand was relegated to the bench again. He has averaged thirteen minutes per game this season. However, Armand has improved his three-point shooting from 42 percent last season to 44 percent this season going into last night's game. And he improved on that shooting percentage last night, as he got to show off that shooting talent in a big way.
After the Saints cut the lead to twelve, 37-25 with six-and-a-half minutes left, Armand took over. He would score the next TWENTY Iona points by himself. He warmed up first with a layup. Then like a great guitarist, Armand nailed two sweet riffs in a row, or in his case, buried two three-pointers. And like a great performer who knows his abilities and how to please the audience, Armand kept firing away. He would hit six three-pointers in total over those final six-and-a-half minutes.
Armand by himself outscored the local Power Six conference team in their first half, 20-18. Iona was up 57-31 at halftime. As impressive as Armand was, the more impressive fact might have been that the Gaels scored 57 points and that their leading scorer on the season, Michael Glover, only had two of them.
With the game over for all intensive purposes, there were only two things left on the mind of the fans watching the game. One, would Iona scored 100 points again? And two, what would Armand do for an encore?
Well, Tim Cluess knows how to keep the audience happy and had Armand start the second half. And he didn't disappoint. Three minutes in, Armand buried his second attempt of the half. Not even two minutes later, another one, which was his eighth of the night. The Armand watch was now officially on as the Iona record for three-pointers in a game and the MAAC conference record for three-pointers in a game were on the line.
After Glover briefly interrupted his performance with a layup, Armand hit his ninth three-pointer to put the Gaels up 31, 70-39 with a little less than 13:30 left in the game. That broke the previous Iona record of eight by Kyle Smyth, the man he replaced in the lineup at the start of the second half. It also tied the MAAC record of nine, previously held by five players. Now all that remained was the record-breaking 10th three-pointer.
The fans didn't have to wait too long for that record-breaking 10th one. Armand hit that with 10:30 left to put the Gaels up 35. He attempted three more shots from beyond the arc on the night, but missed on all three. No doubt he was tired from going 10-of-19 from the three-point line. Plus, 32 points is a pretty good night.
Iona would actually go up by as many as 41 points before they settled for a 95-59 win. They didn't get their hundred points. But the designated home team dominated Siena in front of a large New York City hoops-loving crowd that was starving for made baskets after the first game of the evening.
The Gaels were a mind-boggling 17-of-39 from beyond the arc. The nation's leading assist team had 21 assists on the night, nine by Scott Machado and seven by Jones, who had 14 points. Jenkins had 16 points, and Glover ended up with 10. Siena was led by Evan Hines, who scored 22 points and OD Anosuke had 12 points and 13 rebounds. After hitting seven of their first 10 shots, the Saints only hit 16 of their last 53 shots.
As the crowd exited the Garden late last night, they witnessed another record-breaking performance. But it wasn't by a Power Six conference team player. It was the "mid-major power" who had the three-point virtuoso who broke two records on the night. Quite a feat in the World's Most Famous Arena.
IONA 95, SIENA 59 01/03/2012
SIENA 5-8 (0-3) -- E. Hymes 6-10 7-7 22; K. Downey 4-9 1-2 9; O. Anosike 6-15 0-1 12; R. Poole 3-9 0-0 6; O. Wignot 1-10 1-2 4; B. Walters 3-7 0-1 6; M. Hopper 0-1 0-0 0; C. Fenlon 0-2 0-0 0; S. Cruz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-63 9-13 59. IONA 11-3 (3-0) -- L. Jones 5-8 0-0 14; S. Machado 3-7 3-3 9; M. Glover 5-8 0-1 10; S. Armand 11-22 0-0 32; R. Dezouvre 2-4 1-2 5; J. Jenkins 5-9 3-3 16; K. Smyth 0-5 0-0 0; T. Ridley 2-7 1-2 5; T. Fields 0-1 0-0 0; N. Moikubo 0-0 0-0 0; N. Moikobu 0-0 0-0 0; J. Gomez 0-3 0-0 0; R. James 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 34-76 10-13 95.
Three-point goals: SIE 4-19 (K. Downey 0-2; O. Wignot 1-5; C. Fenlon 0-2; E. Hymes 3-6; R. Poole 0-4), IONA 17-39 (S. Machado 0-2; J. Jenkins 3-6; K. Smyth 0-5; L. Jones 4-7; S. Armand 10-19); Rebounds: SIE 35 (O. Anosike 13), IONA 43 (S. Machado 9); Assists: SIE 12 (E. Hymes 5), IONA 27 (S. Machado 9); Total Fouls -- SIE 10, IONA 13; Fouled Out: SIE-None; IONA-None.