I took my ten year-old son Ian for our first live look at Iona this season. On the coldest day in January, we made the walk along North Avenue past the Mirage Diner to the Hynes Athletic Center on the Iona campus. The Gaels, taking the floor for the first time since their buzzer beating loss to Manhattan on Thursday, faced an insurgent Loyola.
The Greyhounds, who beat Fairfield on Friday in Bridgeport, Conn, were looking to upend the conference by taking out both pre-season MAAC favorites in one tidy weekend road trip. Ian and I wanted to see if it could be done, and so did many others; at the tip, Hynes was near capacity despite the Giants' playing at Green Bay in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs on the same afternoon.
The game started at a racehorse pace. Loyola's Robert Olson hit a three-pointer on the first set of the first possession. He would carry the scoring responsibility for Loyola all day, especially when Loyola's leading scorer Dylon Cormier picked up two quick fouls and exited the game, never to become a decisive factor. Both teams mixed their defenses early, and each coach experimented with a press. Loyola's tall wing players disrupted Iona's early half-court offense, and Iona's mercurial point guard, Scott Machado, who leads the Division I in assists, was rendered a shooter instead of a passer.
Loyola's coach Jimmy Patsos takes up a lot of attention in a gym. He is this generation's Speedy Morris, the former LaSalle coach who I saw lay on the floor in front of his bench literally kicking and screaming to protest a call during a Big Five game in Philadelphia. Patsos, with his silver hair and green tie, is more elegant than Morris. He could be Don Nelson's little brother. But he has huge hands, and he points with his right index finger to accentuate his ideas, which are delivered in a hoarse scream. As Loyola gave up their slim five point margin of the opening minutes, Patsos pointed at his players, at the officials, at the clock, the scoreboard - until finally an official pointed to a spot on the floor in front of the chair on Loyola's bench where most head coaches perch: "You stand there, Jimmy." The official's directions were clear even to those of us up in section 12.
But Patsos's team responds to his style. Even though Iona's trio of Muchado, Lamont Jones, and Mike Glover began to find an offensive rhythm, the inside work of Erik Etherly and the return of Cormier late in the half pushed Loyola to a 36-31 lead at the half.
After a hot dog in the basement of Hynes (Iona must be the only college that puts out their VIP spread on the deck of the indoor pool), Ian and I returned to our seats just in time to see the first of three alley oop dunks. Scott Machado had become a passer again.
Machado is 6'1" and does not have blazing quickness. He creates angles by clearing out space with his bulky body. He can throw a low, skimming bounce pass, reminiscent of Boston College in the John Bagley era, that Glover and Taaj Ridley handle well in the post. On several occasions as Machado ran back down the floor, he pointed to the player to whom he had just given an assist - the opposite of how players usually recognize each other, the scorer more typically nodding to the assister. Machado appeared to be thanking Glover or Ridley for making their shots. This is how the chemistry works on a team which has the nation's assist leader.
Machado facilitates for everyone on the Gaels' offense with one exception. Guard Lamont Jones, called "Momo" by the PA announcer, needs no help from his running mate to score. As the game went on, Loyola's long-armed defenders provided less and less resistance to Jones' drives and twists as he slashed his way to 25 points.
Through the first ten minutes of the second half, there had yet to be a decisive run. Iona pulled even, making a defensive adjustment to extend pressure in the backcourt and to double Etherly in the post. But Olson's shooting (he would wind up with 21 points) kept Loyola close. Patsos used his timeouts to keep Iona's momentum from building.
The turning point happened at the seven-minute mark. Machado scrapped with Loyola point guard R.J. Williams while the latter tried to start the Greyhounds' half court set. Williams used his forearm to fend Machado off. The Iona guard dogged Williams who, unable to penetrate, dribbled from the left side of the court to the right, deking and jab-stepping but finding no opening. As the shot clock wound down, Williams sliced to the basket and committed an offensive foul. As the Iona crowd howled its appreciation, Ian turned to me and said, as if right out of color-commentator school, "It's getting sloppy and physical."
Iona pushed out to a ten point lead, 65-55, on a Machado three and a Glover slam, the most emphatic of his seven field goals.
Olson, who would shoot 5-8 from three and 8-13 overall, continued to find openings for his short-armed jump shot, but the rest of the Greyhounds tired.
As Loyola's thread began to fray and Coach Patsos pointed his long finger at hecklers who had gathered behind the visitors' bench, Iona's coach Tim Cluess became animated. At a timeout he stood in front of his huddled players and demonstrated how to play deny defense as if talking to a group of middle school players at summer basketball camp. Cluess had Olson in mind, but Olson fouled out a minute later. Somewhere on press row an Iona athletic department employee pulled up Kiss's "Back in the New York Groove" on his ITunes account, hooked his computer to the PA system, and waited for the final horn.
at IONA 74, LOYOLA (MD.) 63 01/15/2012
LOYOLA (MD.) 12-5 (5-2) -- E. Etherly 4-9 1-2 9; R. Olson 8-13 0-2 21; S. Walker 2-7 0-0 5; D. Cormier 2-7 4-4 8; A. Winbush 0-1 0-1 0; R. Williams 0-4 0-0 0; J. Drummond 5-14 1-1 12; J. Hall 3-7 1-3 8; J. Brooks 0-0 0-0 0; L. Wandrusch 0-0 0-0 0; P. Williams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-62 7-13 63. IONA 14-4 (6-1) -- L. Jones 10-15 5-8 25; M. Glover 7-10 6-11 20; T. Ridley 4-9 2-3 10; K. Smyth 1-3 0-0 3; S. Machado 4-8 3-4 12; J. Jenkins 1-3 0-0 2; R. Dezouvre 0-4 0-0 0; S. Armand 1-4 0-0 2; T. Fields 0-0 0-0 0; N. Moikubo 0-0 0-0 0; J. Gomez 0-0 0-0 0; R. James 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-56 16-26 74.
Three-point goals: LMD 8-23 (S. Walker 1-4; E. Etherly 0-1; J. Hall 1-3; R. Olson 5-8; D. Cormier 0-3; J. Drummond 1-3; R. Williams 0-1), IONA 2-11 (S. Machado 1-3; J. Jenkins 0-1; K. Smyth 1-3; L. Jones 0-1; S. Armand 0-1; T. Ridley 0-2); Rebounds: LMD 30 (E. Etherly 7), IONA 40 (M. Glover 15); Assists: LMD 12 (A. Winbush 3), IONA 14 (S. Machado 9); Total Fouls -- LMD 21, IONA 15; Fouled Out: LMD-S. Walker; IONA-None.