I'll admit it. I got there late. Iona vs. Manhattan was probably going to be one of (if not the) biggest regular season games of the year in New York City and I got there late.
It was my fault. I tried to pull off a triple-header, but something crazy happened in game two. After a lot of jawing during the game and a number of technical fouls, a shoving match broke out in the handshake line at the end of the LIU Brooklyn - Central Connecticut game. While I waited for that to die down, and a chance to get interviews, the seconds ticked away.
Thankfully, I had a ride. So we sped up the interstate from Brooklyn back to the Bronx, where I'd already been earlier that day to watch Fordham play Charlotte. As we did, I anxiously checked the score on my iPhone, while sitting in the passenger seat of course.
As we drove, it looked like the game was working itself in a Manhattan sort of way. The Jaspers want to play defense and grind games out against opponents. The trapping system that Steve Masiello brought with him from Louisville eventually wears down opponents and gives the Jaspers the chance to pull out games late. That's exactly what happened the last time these two teams met -- a last-second Manhattan victory.
Once I got settled into my seat on press row around the eight-minute mark in the first half, I realized that wasn't the case at all. Sometimes box scores, especially mid-game ones, can be deceiving. The game in front of me wasn't anything like the one I expected; instead, it was a furious up-and-down relay race in Draddy Gymnasium. The only problem was that Manhattan was trying to run a 4x100 relay with just one runner. George Beamon was hitting everything and trying to keep Manhattan in the game.
Iona, on the other hand, has lots of runners. Mike Glover, Scott Machado and Momo Jones form a trio that some MAAC observers have likened to the Miami Heat's combination of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. While that's an overstatement, there's no doubt that the Gaels are extremely talented. It's not their basketball skills that people worry about, but their focus.
And on Saturday they were focused.
Tim Cluess' squad wanted revenge for the three that had ripped a victory away from them on their home court. They wanted to prove to all the Manhattan fans wearing green and the students saying dirty things that they were the elite team in the MAAC.
Starting the second half, that's exactly what the Gaels did. Iona ripped off a quick seven-point run to build a working margin, and managed to not blow it this time. With the win, Iona once again sat in first place in the conference, but the Gaels will have to beat Loyola (MD) this week to stay there.
Near the end, Machado threw down the first dunk of his career on a fast break. There was no one around him, and he could've run off some more time, but he decided to throw it down, even with a banged-up knee. That play was to be the biggest display of emotion. It was the moment when Iona let their actions do all of the talking.
For the Gaels proved on Saturday night in a hostile gym that they're not going down easy, and that Iona is still a team with a bunch of talent and bigger dreams ahead.
IONA 85, at MANHATTAN 73 02/04/2012
IONA 19-5 (11-2) -- D. Burton 5-12 6-7 18; M. Glover 7-10 5-7 19; L. Jones 6-14 5-7 18; S. Machado 5-7 6-8 18; T. Ridley 3-7 1-3 7; S. Armand 4-9 4-4 14; K. Smyth 1-5 0-0 2; R. Dezouvre 2-3 3-4 7; J. Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0; R. James 0-0 0-0 0; T. Fields 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-55 24-33 85. MANHATTAN 17-8 (10-3) -- G. Beamon 8-15 7-7 26; M. Alvarado 3-11 0-0 7; K. Brutus 4-13 0-0 12; E. Andujar 3-9 0-0 7; R. Colonette 2-6 2-2 6; R. Brown 4-6 0-2 8; D. Kates 1-1 0-1 2; L. McCabe-Moran 2-3 0-0 5; M. Koita 0-1 0-0 0; D. Anderson 0-1 0-0 0; D. Coulibaly 0-1 0-0 0; K. Laue 0-0 0-0 0; R. McCoy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-67 9-12 73.
Three-point goals: IONA 5-16 (S. Machado 2-3; K. Smyth 0-3; L. Jones 1-4; S. Armand 2-6), MAN 10-30 (L. McCabe-Moran 1-2; G. Beamon 3-7; M. Koita 0-1; M. Alvarado 1-3; K. Brutus 4-12; D. Anderson 0-1; E. Andujar 1-4); Rebounds: IONA 32 (M. Glover 7), MAN 30 (G. Beamon 8); Assists: IONA 21 (S. Machado 9), MAN 17 (E. Andujar 6); Total Fouls -- IONA 15, MAN 23; Fouled Out: IONA-None; MAN-K. Brutus.