SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - In the days of yore, back when people didn't habitually reach into their pockets and pull out an object that they stared at for hours a day, we would have wondered what the hell Momo Jones was doing wearing a sweatshirt underneath his warm-up as Iona prepared for its biggest game of the season in the MAAC quarterfinal against upstart Canisius.
Of course, even though through the magic of Twitter I already knew, my query would have been answered a few minutes into the game when Jones subbed himself out of the game, grabbed the trash can behind the bench, stuck his head in it, and deposited of what he had eaten and drank in the last couple of hours. The hard way.
As Iona's student manager raced to grab a smaller trash can that Momo could have for his own personal use should the need arise again, Jones put a towel over his head. Rumors had his temperature as high as 102, he had the flu, he had any number of ailments. The obvious comparisons to Michael Jordan's effort while ill in the 1997 NBA Finals were brought up because that's what ESPN and Gatorade have conditioned us to do.
Only Momo knows how awful he was feeling. But it's safe to say - unless Jones excelled acting classes somewhere along the line - that he wasn't 100 percent. Jones is not underrated in MAAC circles, but those rings don't really extend to the rest of the country. He attended three high schools, the final one being Oak Hill Academy and went to Arizona for two years, starting every game his sophomore season, before being granted a waiver to not sit a year to transfer to Iona.
Last season, he was overshadowed by seniors Scott Machado and Mike Glover, and scored just six points (including 0-for-6 on #superhoops) in Iona's NCAA Tournament collapse against BYU
. This season, Iona finished a disappointing fourth in the MAAC, despite Jones being the second-leading scorer in the nation (although he had two of his worst games of the season against Canisius, including a seven-point outing in the first meeting, the only time this season he's been held to single digits), the Gaels again just having trouble finishing games off for whatever reason.
Momo takes a lot of bad shots, makes a few poor decisions, doesn't always see eye to eye with his coach
, but there's no questioning his talent or his heart, certainly not on this day. Before he left the game to puke, he took seven shots in the first three minutes of the game, but it was fifth-seeded and upstart Canisius - dead last in the MAAC last season - that controlled the early-going, leading by as many as eight.
Of course, Momo was not alone, fellow senior Sean Armand is one of the best pure shooters around, good enough where Canisius fouled him twice while shooting three-pointers. After the second, Jones stole the inbound pass, and instead of pulling it out, shot over two Griffins and hit, pumping his arm to his chest as Iona grabbed the lead.
The Gaels held a 42-37 halftime advantage and threatened to pull away as Armand started the second half hot and David Laury (14 rebounds) controlled the paint. Of course, Iona is not known for its ability to close games out (in fact, the exact opposite) and Billy Baron, who escaped Rhode Island and followed his fired dad to Canisius and his unorthodox shooting motion helped bring the Griffs within 78-77 with 2:30 left.
But they would pass Iona. Jones sat a MAAC Tournament record by going 14-for-14 from the free throw line, Iona was 34-for-40 as a team and the Gaels did a surprisingly good job of closing out a tough game against a hungry opponent, and the Gaels is two games away from a return to the NCAA Tournament.
In addition to answering my question about Jones being ill, Twitter also told me that the Iona coaches were wearing sweatsuits not because their laundry got lost at the hotel or their suits never made it from New Rochelle to Springfield, but because they were raising awareness for cystic fibrosis and won (after losing three straight). So they wore them again the next game. And won.
Yes, in a world of KenPom and a multitude of other sabermetrics that coaches and programs use, there's still a place for old-school superstitions. Even if they make you look rather ridiculous. With television picking up the semifinals, we'll see if Tim Cluess and his staff continues.
I love the MAAC Tournament, but common sense does not always prevail when it comes to trying to squeeze everyone in for six games in one day (including the two women's games if you hadn't read the other games). They somehow tried to clear MassMutual Arena between sessions, even though there was only 25 minutes between games, which would have been an interesting sight if the building was full.
As the people waited for the building to reopen like shoppers on Black Friday, some nudging, pushing, I walked outside for some air (the temperature hit 50 in Springfield Saturday afternoon after nearly a foot of snow fell the day before). It would have been a perfect time to head to the Fan Fest down the hall, but that was already closed for the day as well. Even Subway across the street was inexplicably shut down at 7 p.m. with thousands of hungry people lurking.
So I stood outside and waited. My eyes were drawn to a group of college kids in yellow chanting, "Where's our bus? Where's our bus?" It was the Canisius student section, who was about 100 strong, probably some of the same kids I had seen way back in December in Syracuse. Their seats for the MAAC Tournament were almost as bad as they were in the Carrier Dome, for some reason the tournament does not allow students to sit behind the basket at the MassMutual Center, even if - like Canisius - your school didn't bring a band.
And so, with their hopes dashed in just a couple of hours of play, the Canisius students were headed back 350 miles and six hours to Buffalo. I asked, a few of them said they's be back next year, but a couple of others said they were seniors, so probably not. I tried to say something about this game will hurt you, but the bus decided to come by right about then, so the random guy asking questions was no longer relevant.
And, sadly, neither was Canisius. They were eliminated and soon forgotten as the doors opened once again and two more elimination games were about to commence.