Game #9-207: Norfolk State Spartans at Iona GaelsDecember 23, 2012 2:00 pm
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. - Just as I was with C.J. McCollum earlier in the season
, again last Sunday I was put in the role of salesman, only this time I thought it might be a tougher sell.
My friend, the Temple alum whom I'd witnessed the upset with the day before
was still in town, and I gave what I thought was a decent pitch:
"Two NCAA Tournament teams from last year," I told him. "Remember Norfolk St.? They beat Missouri last year. Iona, well they kind of blew it against BYU, but they're still pretty good, plus they're fun to watch. Small gym
, too, only like an hour away. Should be fun."
The response was surprisingly quick: "Sure."
I shouldn't have been so shocked, Ken was involved in my formative college basketball years and although many things have changed over the years, our affection for random sporting events hasn't. My explanation of what I'm trying to do for Mid-majority elicited this: "So you're the guy to talk to about which of the small schools I should take when the NCAA bracket comes out?"
"Yeah. I guess."
As comebacks go after I try to explain my purpose at so many college basketball games, I'll take it.
My sales pitch was slightly embellished, although I can probably plead temporary insanity, or at the very least, amnesia. Or ignorance.
Yes, Norfolk State was the team that eliminated Missouri nine months ago
, but I had seen them twice a month ago, and the Spartans played like, well, what I think a decent team in the MEAC should look like: they battled hard against Jimmy Patsos and Loyola
before getting clipped by Missouri-Kansas City
, neither performance all that inspiring, and slightly disappointing, given that I thought they might be able to follow up the NCAA upset with a decent non-conference run this season. Kyle O'Quinn had graduated, and wasn't coming through that door, however.
There was some hope in a four-game winning streak followed by a very respectable showing at Illinois in a 10-point loss.
But at the Hynes Center against Iona in their final game before Christmas, they were outclassed.
They hung around for a little while, getting to within 17-13 at one point, but even to the amateur eyes, Norfolk State was eventually going to be in big trouble if they couldn't stop Iona from pushing the tempo.
Twice Ken turned to me and said, "How many guys did they lose from last year? They're just not very good."
By the end of the first half, the Gaels - who were ice cold from behind the arc, but still managed to open up a lead - finally starting hitting shots. A.J. English's superhoop got the lead to 16, and only a couple of careless mistakes and some hard work from Pendarvis Williams and Rashid Gaston kept it from being worse than 43-31 at the break.
(English's superhoop led to an interesting conversation amongst the kids in front of me, probably about 12. One was louder and more loquacious than the rest, and his name happened to be A.J. When English hit the shot, he screamed, "That's my cousin, man. Good job, cuz."
Another kid turned to him and said matter-of-factly, "Why would he be your cousin just because he had the same name as you?"
There was a long pause before the response, "I don't know.")
Norfolk St. flirted with getting back into the game a couple of times, but they never got closer than 14 after the first couple minutes of the second half. Iona - which started cold from outside - would finish 10-of-29 on superhoops and 22-of-27 from the free throw line. With 38 seconds left, Nyandigisi Moikobu connected from long range and Iona had the century mark in a 100-72 rout.
The Spartans actually hit 12 superhoops of their own in this game, which may speak to how open the game really was for most of it. What's interesting when watching this game is that last year's Norfolk St. squad was fairly comfortable playing at a fast tempo, after all their win over Missouri was 86-84, and that wasn't an isolated game.
Of course, it's not fair in Our Game to compare a team from one season to the next. Every one is different, every one produces new challenges. With only five players on the floor, it doesn't take much to disrupt the equilibrium that holds the team's orbit in place. And with only one starter returning, it's obviously a different squad.
Which is why so many coaches take the opportunity to jump the Red Line after a great season below it. Who knows when the chance at a bigger contract with more amenities at your disposal is going to come again. Anthony Evans took up his trademark crouching stance on the sidelines, but there wasn't much he could do Sunday.
Of course, these non-conference games mean very little in the grand scheme for the Spartans anyway. They are 2-0 already in the MEAC, and - even though they've struggled against tough competition - could very well find themselves back in the NCAA mix again. Then who knows?
Meanwhile, Iona recently added David Laury, who sat out the first semester, and Laury gives them a much-needed inside presence (he had 20 points and seven rebounds). Athletically, they can compete with just about everyone in the country, but they've already lost a game in the MAAC, and will have to rid themselves of the inconsistency that plagued them last season. However, they are certainly among the favorites in their conference to return to the NCAA Tournament as well.
While Ken was slightly upset that the game did not live up to the billing, at least from a competitive standpoint, how many things we buy actually do? From our seat in the sixth row, he still marveled at how small the court and how big the players did as compared to games he watches on television or from the cheap seats.
"Still kind of cool, I'll have to try to check some of the games out when I get back to Chicago."
You won't regret it, Ken.
at IONA 100, NORFOLK STATE 72
NORFOLK STATE 6-8 (2-0) -- P. Williams 5-11 1-2 15; R. Johnson 1-7 2-4 5; J. Fuentes 3-6 0-0 6; R. Gaston 5-8 3-4 13; M. Hawkins 4-11 0-0 9; M. Phelps 3-4 0-0 8; Z. Estime 4-9 0-0 12; B. Goode 1-1 0-0 2; K. Brown 0-2 0-0 0; A. Rogers 0-1 2-2 2; K. Lila-St. Rose 0-1 0-0 0; J. Weathers 0-0 0-0 0; P. Vinogradovas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-61 8-12 72.
IONA 6-5 (1-1) -- L. Jones 6-14 12-12 24; T. Sledge 5-8 2-3 12; D. Laury 8-10 4-6 20; T. Ridley 4-8 2-2 10; S. Armand 4-10 0-0 12; A. English 3-6 0-2 8; D. Gomez 1-7 0-0 3; T. Bowman 1-2 2-2 5; N. Moikobu 1-1 0-0 3; C. Dennis 1-1 0-0 3; D. Anderson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-67 22-27 100.
Three-point goals: NORF 12-29 (M. Hawkins 1-4; R. Johnson 1-3; K. Brown 0-2; P. Williams 4-10; K. Lila-St. Rose 0-1; Z. Estime 4-7; M. Phelps 2-2), IONA 10-29 (N. Moikobu 1-1; C. Dennis 1-1; L. Jones 0-5; S. Armand 4-8; T. Ridley 0-1; T. Bowman 1-2; A. English 2-5; D. Gomez 1-6); Rebounds: NORF 25 (R. Johnson 6), IONA 41 (T. Ridley 9); Assists: NORF 13 (J. Fuentes 5), IONA 24 (L. Jones 5); Total Fouls -- NORF 22, IONA 9; Fouled Out: NORF-M. Hawkins; IONA-None.
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