Even starting in the preseason, Iona's gotten the lion's share of the attention in the MAAC. The Gaels were picked to win the MAAC title this year, and that was even before learning that they'd be able to add Momo Jones to the roster this year, thanks to a hardship waiver granted by the NCAA after Jones transferred from Arizona. The buzz got stronger as Iona started their non-conference slate, with some folks tossing around the idea that Iona might be worthy of an at-large bid come March if they were to need one.
The hyperbole has died down considerably as time has worn on, but the end result is this: Ask anybody who's been paying any attention to the MAAC this year, myself included, and they're probably going to tell you that Iona is the class of that league.
Which brings us to tonight's matchup at Reitz Arena, where Iona was visiting the Loyola Greyhounds with first place in the MAAC on the line. I had expected two things walking into the arena tonight: that we'd see a pretty good game of basketball, and that Iona would ultimately come away with the win and jump into the driver's seat in the MAAC.
You could argue that I was wrong about the first part. The second one, though? Clearly and spectacularly wrong.
I have a philosophy of sorts regarding situations where coaches call timeouts when the next stoppage results in a media timeout anyway. The first time it happens, it's because there's disaster looming, and it's worth burning the timeout to stop the bleeding. The second time, there's a full-on crisis situation, and if things aren't stopped immediately, the game is lost. By the time you're wasting a third timeout in this fashion, you're really just going through the motions. Things are probably already out of reach, but it's better to at least attempt to fix things than to totally give up.
Iona enjoyed a 3-1 lead two minutes into the game before promptly allowing a 10-0 Loyola run. Iona coach Tim Cluess thought his team to be so unsettled that he called his first timeout after the 16-minute mark, with the first media stoppage upcoming. Disaster looming.
The Gaels crawled back to within one before another Loyola run, this time of the 8-0 variety. And just as before, Cluess calls another timeout, this time just seconds before the under-12 media timeout would have kicked in. Full-on crisis mode on the Iona bench.
Once more the Gaels would creep back, this time to within five, but another 8-0 Loyola run put Iona back at square one. So with less than four minutes in the first half, and the last media timeout just around the corner, Cluess called his third timeout. He looked completely confused and lost, his team down by 13 then, and by 17 at the break.
It didn't get much better after halftime for Cluess and his team. The Greyhounds stretched their lead to as much as 25 in the second half. Iona made a furious run, aided in no small part by an interesting decision by Loyola to break out of their offensive rhythm and slow things down, but never got closer than two possessions. The Greyhounds protected their home court with an 87-81 win that didn't feel as close as the score might indicate.
So after tonight's game, it's Loyola, and not Iona, sitting atop the MAAC standings with four games to go. It won't be easy for the Greyhounds to stay there, though -- the Greyhounds play each of the teams sitting in third, fourth and fifth place in the MAAC standings before the season is out, including a game at Manhattan to close out the conference schedule. The Greyhounds are certainly capable of carrying the top seed into Springfield, Mass., for the MAAC tournament, but I'm not certain they'll be able to hold on.
Then again, I'm not sure any of us knows just what to expect from the MAAC anymore.
at LOYOLA (MD.) 87, IONA 81 02/10/2012
IONA 19-6 (11-3) -- M. Glover 8-16 6-9 22; S. Armand 6-12 8-9 25; L. Jones 5-13 0-0 12; S. Machado 3-10 1-2 7; K. Smyth 0-3 2-2 2; T. Ridley 1-4 0-0 2; R. James 0-3 2-2 2; R. Dezouvre 3-4 1-1 7; T. Fields 1-1 0-0 2; J. Jenkins 0-1 0-0 0; J. Gomez 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-67 20-25 81. LOYOLA (MD.) 19-5 (12-2) -- E. Etherly 9-12 4-7 22; D. Cormier 8-16 4-5 22; R. Olson 3-11 5-6 13; S. Walker 2-4 0-0 4; R. Williams 2-5 5-7 9; J. Drummond 8-12 0-0 17; J. Latham 0-2 0-0 0; A. Winbush 0-1 0-0 0; J. Brooks 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-63 18-25 87.
Three-point goals: IONA 7-19 (S. Machado 0-1; J. Jenkins 0-1; K. Smyth 0-1; L. Jones 2-6; S. Armand 5-9; R. James 0-1), LMD 5-20 (S. Walker 0-1; A. Winbush 0-1; R. Olson 2-6; D. Cormier 2-7; J. Drummond 1-2; R. Williams 0-3); Rebounds: IONA 33 (M. Glover 16), LMD 35 (E. Etherly 10); Assists: IONA 12 (S. Machado 8), LMD 15 (R. Williams 5); Total Fouls -- IONA 22, LMD 20; Fouled Out: IONA-None; LMD-S. Walker.