Game #9-312: Iona Gaels at Rider BroncsJanuary 20, 2013 2:00 pm
LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. - Here's an interesting geographical fact about Rider University. It is about a half-mile from Interstate 95. My house in New Haven is a couple of miles from I-95 as well. Yet you can't take I-95 directly from New Haven to Lawrenceville, N.J.
The bizarre quirk has to do with the privatized New Jersey Turnpike
, which predated much of the current Interstate system, but it makes for some awkward travel. I was surprised that Lawrenceville was as close
as it was to Princeton, one of the big regrets of this season might end up being not seeing a game in Jadwin Gym, but at least I got to pay it a visit on Sunday morning. Yea, most weeks, that's my idea of going to church.
It's easy to overlook Rider, if you could pick them out on a map, you're better than I was a couple of years ago. It's in suburban Trenton, and there's not a whole lot special to it, to be honest. Yet, the Broncs have held their own since joining the MAAC in 1998, although they haven't had any NCAA Tournament appearances to show for it (it last went in 1994 as a member of the NEC).
Program morale couldn't have been boosted too much when Kevin Dempsey, head coach for seven years, left to go to Binghamton in the off-season
. Yes, 2-29 Binghamton. Ouch.
But the Broncs promoted assistant Kevin Baggett and Rider was 5-2 in the MAAC heading into Sunday's contest with Iona. I was somewhat disappointed Alumni Gym wasn't full, but the students weren't back yet (do college kids ever have to go to class?), leaving one solitary kid on the stage behind the hoop trying to distract free throw shooters. His endeavor was admirable, but mostly futile.
Iona came in winners of six straight, and - having seen them a half-dozen times - I feel I can speak to the court as an Iona expert. The Gaels are probably the most talented team in the conference. But discipline? Not their strong suit. Iona has also been hurt by suspensions, most recently Taaj Ridley, who didn't play
Friday, and wasn't even dressed Sunday, although he came into Alumni Hall just about tipoff. That meant Tim Cluess was going to go guard-heavy, however he did not give 5-foot-9 Tavon Sledge the nod, at least at the start.
Iona may sometimes lack fundamental team basketball and some of their decision-making may leave you scratching your head, but man, they are fun to watch when they get going
. After a typical slow start, you knew a Gaels'
run was coming, and it started with a Sean Armand #superhoop, a short one by his standards, about 25 feet out. His teammates, Momo Jones and Sledge, are two of the fastest guards I've ever seen, which led to some comedy from the guy behind me who was trying to point things out to his high-school aged daughters about how to play.
He probably picked the wrong day to do that with Iona in town. Jones and Sledge ran at the Rider defense with reckless abandon, were occasionally rewarded, but sometimes not. Anyway, a third Armand #superhoop, with a hand in his face from 25 feet out, put Iona up 25-14 with 7:16 left in the opening half and they were rolling.
They would somehow get outscored by the Broncs 21-5 in the rest of the half. Sigh. On more than one occasion, Cluess would try to explain to Jones what he wanted and Jones would seem to understand, but would be back a minute later asking the same question, one time doing it while Rider was coming down the court on a fast break. It was hard to knock Jones' effort in this game, he took a beating physically and never hesitated to put his body on the line, but sometimes - as I alluded to before - the decision-making? Not so much.
Rider was without Nurideen Lindsey, who has a great - albeit heartbreaking - story behind him
. He was questionable with a concussion, and any doubt that he was going to play was answered when I walked into the gym. A ballboy asked Lindsey, who wasn't warming up, "What's up with you?"
The answer, "I have a concussion. It sucks."
Certainly does, but his temporary replacements, junior Tommy Pereira and freshman Zedric Sadler, both did a fine job. Pereira matched Armand #superhoop
for #superhoop, while Sadler logged 34 minutes off the bench when Anthony Myles found himself in foul trouble.
Trailing 35-30 at the break, Iona seemed to come out more focused, scoring 12 of the first 15 points after halftime to grab the lead, capped by an Armand #superhoop
from the right corner. Armand took the time to take his mouthpiece out after making the shot to yap at a heckler (the fans were right on top of the court at Alumni Hall), which I didn't have a huge problem with at the time, but Armand would not score a field goal in the final 18:22 of the contest, and wouldn't attempt a two-pointer in the whole game.
Slowly but surely, the game now being played at a more comfortable pace for them, the Broncs asserted control of the proceedings. Nothing summed up the current state of Iona basketball for me more than Sledge in the second half, who had a couple of big defensive plays, and had the guts to go to the basket and try to dunk over 6-foot-7 Daniel Stewart not once, but twice. While it's nice to have a big set of balls, he was denied twice and Rider broke the other way.
In the end, Sledge had the only Iona field goal in a 10-minute span late in the game (broken only by a Jones layup that was uncontested with the clock running out), and Rider gutted out another victory, 67-62, to draw them even with Iona in the MAAC standings.
It's a cliché, obviously, but it was a team effort from the Broncs who had Stewart, Jonathon Thompson, Pereira, and Myles all score from 12 to 14 points. Rider won the rebounding battle 46-32, and most disconcerting for Cluess and Iona, David Laury - their only real post presence - had 17 rebounds and the next highest on the squad was three.
After Jones made his layup for the game's final points with 3.3 seconds left, Cluess used his final timeout, which seemed pointless, but he used it to rip into his team. I couldn't quite hear him from my seat over the jubilant Rider crowd, however he wasn't happy, which probably led to a long ride back on the New Jersey Turnpike. Once they traversed the convoluted way to get to it, of course.
Baggett on the radio broadcast afterward gave the credit to his team's second-half defense, which seemed accurate, even if it wasn't terribly exciting to watch, except maybe when Sledge was being rejected by Stewart.
Which is our dilemma with Iona. They are probably the most entertaining team I've seen play this season, and among the most individually talented. But as they proved Sunday, being fun to watch and getting results are two different propositions altogether.
One more quirk on my way home, I was short on gas, and in New Jersey, you aren't allowed to pump your own gas.
Yeah, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but if we could make sense of everything we came across, life would be pretty predictable, wouldn't it?
at RIDER 67, IONA 62
IONA 12-7 (6-2) -- S. Armand 4-11 3-4 15; L. Jones 5-16 10-11 20; D. Laury 3-8 4-8 10; A. English 1-6 0-0 3; T. Sledge 6-11 2-3 14; T. Bowman 0-2 0-0 0; D. Gomez 0-1 0-0 0; C. Dennis 0-1 0-0 0; N. Moikobu 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-56 19-26 62.
RIDER 11-9 (6-2) -- J. Thompson 4-9 5-8 13; D. Stewart 5-13 3-5 13; Z. Sadler 3-9 0-0 8; S. Valentine 2-7 0-0 5; T. Pereira 5-8 0-0 14; A. Myles 5-9 0-2 12; J. Fortunat 1-4 0-0 2; K. Alford 0-0 0-0 0; D. Nd-Ezuma 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 8-15 67.
Three-point goals: IONA 5-24 (C. Dennis 0-1; L. Jones 0-5; S. Armand 4-11; T. Bowman 0-1; A. English 1-5; D. Gomez 0-1), RID 9-21 (J. Thompson 0-1; A. Myles 2-4; T. Pereira 4-6; Z. Sadler 2-6; S. Valentine 1-4); Rebounds: IONA 28 (D. Laury 17), RID 41 (D. Stewart 10); Assists: IONA 7 (S. Armand 3), RID 14 (J. Thompson 7); Total Fouls -- IONA 16, RID 18; Fouled Out: IONA-None; RID-None.