Iona is the MAAC's cream of the crop; the best team the conference has seen since the 2008-09 Siena squad that nearly reached the Sweet 16.
The Gaels are aware of their talent, and their swagger was abundant during Thursday night's warmups, when seemingly every player wearing white and maroon threw down a windmill or self-thrown alley-oop. Scott Machado, the nation's assist leader, even tossed a pass to himself off the wall behind Iona's basket -- the Hynes Athletic Center doesn't have seats flanking the baseline -- and slammed it home.
The unique display invigorated the capacity crowd.
After Manhattan's George Beamon scored the game's first basket, Iona found its groove. The Gaels, fueled by Machado's distributing and Sean Armand's four early treys, jumped to a 19-7 lead just seven minutes into the game and led 39-22 at halftime.
The Gaels buried nine threes on 16 attempts, and Machado dealt nine assists.
You can't fully appreciate Machado and the Gaels until you see them in person.
I've always hated when writers and broadcasters compare different sports to each other, but Machado really is Iona's "quarterback." Just like a quarterback throws a pass before his receiver completes the route, Machado impeccably places passes even if he and the recipient are on separate ends of the floor and seemingly unaware of each other. In the first half, he threw a 30-foot alley-oop and dished off a no-look pass that left Manhattan's defense as helpless as Wile E. Coyote.
As for the rest of the Gaels, well, they can outshoot Hawkeye. Practically every rotation player is a deep threat, and Armand, who recently buried 10 threes against Siena, is shooting 48.8 percent from long range.
And, of course, I'd be absolutely remiss if I didn't mention Michael Glover, who scored his 1,000th career point. That doesn't sound all too impressive until you realize the junior-college transfer has only played one and a half seasons in Division I.
After the torrid first half, Iona seemed to be in cruise control. The Jaspers cut the Gaels' lead to 13 or 12 points several times, but Iona constantly repelled any notion of a second-half comeback. So, when Kyle Smyth buried a three with eight minutes left to push the lead back to 17, not a single fan in the Hynes Athletic Center thought Manhattan had a chance.
Then Beamon, who scored 21 points, responded with a trey of his own and Manhattan assembled a 10-0 spurt to cut Iona's lead to 65-58 with 5:15 on the clock.
A comeback still seemed implausible, though, especially after the teams traded baskets for the next two minutes. However, a Kidani Brutus three followed by two Emmy Andujar free throws and a steal/layup combo by Mike Alvarado tied the score at 69 with 1:53 left.
Neither team scored again until Glover converted 1-of-2 from the line to give Iona a one-point lead with 32 ticks remaining, but Rhamel Brown answered with an and-one on the other end to put the Jaspers on top, 72-70, with eight seconds left.
Brown's foul shot foreshadowed the craziness that would ensue--the sophomore shot-blocker entered the game as a 46.4 percent career foul shooter. He was already 4-of-7 from the stripe, so statistics, for what they're worth, said he shouldn't have converted.
Tim Cluess put the rock in the hands of MoMo Jones, who drove down the middle of the floor and tied the game as he hit the deck with 3.3 seconds on the clock, barely avoiding a travel.
Manhattan rookie head coach Steve Masiello called timeout with 1.3 seconds left and the Jaspers at halfcourt. After Brutus cycled through as option No. 1 and Beamon flashed as No. 2, inbounder Alvarado had no choice but to toss the ball across court to Andujar on the right wing. The freshman caught the ball with his back to the basket, turned and fired a fallaway prayer from behind the arc.
In the end, Manhattan, not Iona, swaggered off the floor.
MANHATTAN 75, at IONA 72 01/12/2012
MANHATTAN 11-7 (4-2) -- S. Curry 4-9 2-3 11; G. Beamon 6-13 7-8 21; R. Brown 6-11 5-8 17; M. Alvarado 2-10 0-1 4; E. Andujar 5-8 5-5 17; K. Brutus 3-5 0-0 9; L. McCabe-Moran 1-3 0-0 2; M. Koita 1-1 0-0 3; R. Colonette 0-0 0-0 0; R. McCoy 1-4 0-0 2; D. Kates 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 25-57 17-22 75. IONA 13-4 (5-1) -- S. Machado 3-10 0-0 8; L. Jones 3-9 0-0 7; R. Dezouvre 4-5 0-0 9; M. Glover 6-10 6-8 18; K. Smyth 4-9 0-0 12; S. Armand 4-9 0-1 12; J. Gomez 1-1 0-0 2; T. Ridley 2-3 0-0 4; T. Fields 0-2 0-0 0; J. Jenkins 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-59 6-9 72.
Three-point goals: MAN 8-20 (L. McCabe-Moran 0-2; G. Beamon 2-5; M. Koita 1-1; M. Alvarado 0-2; K. Brutus 3-5; E. Andujar 2-3; D. Kates 0-1; R. McCoy 0-1), IONA 12-28 (S. Machado 2-6; T. Fields 0-1; K. Smyth 4-8; L. Jones 1-5; S. Armand 4-7; R. Dezouvre 1-1); Rebounds: MAN 35 (R. Brown 11), IONA 33 (M. Glover 8); Assists: MAN 13 (M. Alvarado 4), IONA 23 (S. Machado 16); Total Fouls -- MAN 17, IONA 23; Fouled Out: MAN-None; IONA-None.