Game #9-297: Fairfield Stags at Iona GaelsJanuary 18, 2013 9:00 pm
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. - Like a lot of the conferences in Our Game, the MAAC does what it can to promote itself, and so unfortunately, when someone like ESPN tells them to jump, they just respond "standing or broad, sir?".
And so, here I was at the Hynes Athletic Center for a 9 p.m. Friday night tip-off that pushed back a few minutes waiting for Vermont to finish off Stony Brook in the ESPNU opener. There's perhaps nothing more disconcerting than a crowd and both teams getting fired up for tip-off, only to see the television cameras still on the broadcasters. Several times this season I've been witness to this, only to see the teams slowly meander back to the bench while they wait patiently. Or impatiently, depending on the individual like myself.
On some level, I do understand, these schools need to promote themselves, and getting your basketball team on television is a great two-hour advertisement, especially for a team like Iona, who plays about as entertaining a style as anyone in Our Game. Sometimes to its own detriment, especially last season
, sure, but still fun to watch.
As I've mentioned before, Hynes is one of those Catch-22 Mid-majority facilities: small and intimate, but without much in the way of modern amenities. Perhaps because of the late start, the normal concession stand below the gym next to the pool was shut down, so they put up a temporary one in a tent. Outside. It was 22 degrees out. They had to pick the night I was absolutely starving to do that, right?
The first couple of times I had gone to Hynes this season, I went to the right side of the court deliberately to avoid the student section. Makes sense, right? But on Friday, for some reason, I was ushered to the left, early enough to stay away from the students and eat in peace.
I got to witness a fairly impressive pregame dunking contest for Iona, especially from 5-foot-9 Tavon Sledge, who channeled his inner Spud Webb, with a couple of throw the ball off the backboard and throw the ball down dunks. It was only a few minutes before tip-off and I've heard of teams being assessed technical fouls for such stunts, but my understanding (after asking) was that if the referees aren't on the floor, it's legal. Which is interesting.
Of course, play-by-play man Bob Huessler was in the house for the Stags as well.
As was former Iona point guard Scott Machado
, who can't quite seem to stick in the NBA at the moment, although he's bouncing around. He was immediately recognized by the faithful in New Rochelle, which had to make him feel good, especially how his final season ended in the play-in game of the NCAA Tournament
I'd love to tell you that Iona has one of the most dedicated student sections in the country, and they had a few diehards opposite from where I sat, but the majority of the students were fashionably late (ironically, center Taaj Ridley was suspended for Iona, reportedly for being late to class earlier in the week). And so, as visiting Fairfield - fairly desperate for a victory - got off to a good road start behind senior guard Derek Needham (who's had his struggles this season), the students invaded my section.
Fairfield, which led 19-14 at one point, seemed intent on keeping Iona - who basically started four guards with Ridley out - from doing its usual thing from behind the three-point line, but Sean Armand's range is whatever the hell he wants it to be, especially in the friendly confines of Hynes. DeShawn Gomez got into the act with a pair of #superhoops, and when Momo Jones followed an Armand 25-footer with a 30-footer of his own, Hynes was rocking and Iona had a 41-30 lead at the half.
It was after 10 p.m., but the students - giving some new meaning to the phrase "fashionably late" - were still arriving. I guess it shouldn't have been that surprising, 10 p.m. is about the time on a Friday night to start heading out in college, and with Hynes in the middle of a small campus, it's not a bad social place to start as a warm-up, right? As much as we'd like to think that Our Game is that important to every person on every campus we come across, but that's a little specious, isn't it?
I know you'll be stunned by this, but some of the Iona students actually snuck alcohol into the gym, too, and talked about smoking marijuana, even insinuating that a couple of the players might have joined them on a couple of occasions (hopefully in the off-season). Shocked, I tells you. College kids do that stuff?
Anyway, Iona can play some basketball, but Fairfield hung around for most of the second half. Dealt a fairly tough MAAC first-half schedule combined with a couple of tough defeats left the defending MAAC finalist at 2-4 in the league coming in. Needham in particular had struggled offensively, but not on this night. Needham hit a superhoop and Maurice Barrow followed with a layup inside and the Stags were within 47-46 with 14:45 left, but it was Armand and Jones (who hit three of the most difficult shots I've seen made all season in this game) with superhoops of their own, and three minutes later, the lead was back up to 61-50.
Welcome to Iona basketball.
Still, Fairfield - led by Needham - wouldn't go away, getting as close as three with 3:30 left, but each time the Gaels had an answer and eventually had a hard-fought 84-73 win. Gomez got some rare radio time afterward with Momo and Armand headed to the ESPN cameras.
For all my talk of inconsistency, and the style they play dictates itself to some questionable decisions, Iona has now won 19 of its last 21 MAAC games at Hynes, is 7-0 at home this season, and has won six straight overall. Maybe I should stop poking fun and just enjoy some of the most entertaining basketball around.
I just need to find a better place to sit, that's all.
at IONA 84, FAIRFIELD 73
FAIRFIELD 10-9 (2-5) -- M. Gilbert 6-13 0-0 12; D. Needham 9-17 2-4 26; D. Wade 2-5 0-0 4; M. Barrow 4-9 4-5 12; C. Nickerson 1-2 0-0 2; A. Sidibe 3-7 0-0 6; K. Matthews 3-5 1-2 7; C. Johnson 1-5 2-2 4; J. Jenkins 0-2 0-0 0; J. Mikulic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-65 9-13 73.
IONA 12-6 (6-1) -- S. Armand 7-15 6-8 23; L. Jones 10-17 4-4 27; D. Laury 2-12 5-11 9; A. English 1-5 2-2 4; T. Bowman 1-5 2-2 4; T. Sledge 2-4 2-4 6; D. Gomez 3-5 0-0 9; N. Moikobu 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 27-64 21-31 84.
Three-point goals: FAIR 6-17 (D. Wade 0-2; D. Needham 6-11; M. Gilbert 0-3; J. Jenkins 0-1), IONA 9-20 (L. Jones 3-5; S. Armand 3-8; T. Bowman 0-2; A. English 0-1; D. Gomez 3-4); Rebounds: FAIR 37 (A. Sidibe 11), IONA 36 (D. Laury 14); Assists: FAIR 7 (D. Needham 2), IONA 9 (A. English 3); Total Fouls -- FAIR 23, IONA 14; Fouled Out: FAIR-A. Sidibe; IONA-None.
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