"Talent is the divider."- Gary Palladino
Game #9-480: Manhattan Jaspers vs. Iona GaelsMarch 11, 2013 10:00 pm
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Gary Palladino began his coaching career like so many others we know in Our Game, only it was the 1970s, and there was no Mid-majority and college basketball was in its pre-Magic and Bird era.
That doesn't mean there still weren't young coaches chasing the dream and Palladino was one of them, rising to be head coach at Hartford (although they were still Division II back then). However, after five years, he was fired. I wasn't around back then, so I don't even want to speculate what happened and why, most likely the usual coaching shenanigans that have started already this season with teams who have been eliminated.
Palladino caught on with a local all boys Catholic high school here in southern Connecticut, Notre Dame of West Haven, and he never left. I met him as a young reporter, and he treated me extremely well, almost made time for me even after tough defeats, where he would inevitably blame himself. He was especially distraught after a loss to cross-town rival West Haven where Matt Turner (who would go on to a decent Mid-majority career at Boston University) scored 45 points. Palladino never was much for double-teaming.
His teams were usually well-drilled, but never could quite compete with the big city schools on a consistent basis, although he had a couple of Cinderella runs to the state finals (then played at Central Connecticut's Detrick Gym). In the end, though, it always ends in a loss, and for Palladino, it always ended with him saying, "Talent is the divider, Ray. Talent is the divider. The best team usually wins no matter what the coach does."
It ended in one final loss for Palladino last week, as he finally retired after three decades at Notre Dame-West Haven. One of the players I covered will be his successor. And, yes, it ended in a state tournament defeat.
Steve Masiello had played Iona twice this season, watched them on tape God knows how many times, and he and his staff had been able to scout them in person in their first two MAAC Tournament games in Springfield, so there wasn't going to be any surprises in Monday night's final.
Through most of the first half, Masiello's tricks and expert tactical moves had the Gaels off balance and playing at a pace much slower than they wanted to. The Jaspers - as they had done throughout the tournament - continued to go inside, and Roberto Colonette, Michael Alvarado, and Rhamel Brown all had layups in a two-minute span, followed by a Shane Richards #superhoop, and Manhattan had a four-point lead, and they took a 26-24 advantage into the half.
Five minutes into the second half, Richards inexplicably (for Iona) found himself open again in the left corner and made no mistake, adding a little trash talk as Manhattan not only led 35-30, but had the majority of the crowd on its side and Masiello pulling every trick he knew out (with most of them working to perfection).
But Iona had more talent, in fact, almost indubitably had more talent than anyone in the MAAC, but suffered an agonizing string of close defeats that left them as the fourth-seed in this tournament. Masiello's moving of chess pieces held sharpshooter Sean Armand scoreless on just two field goal attempts in the first half, but he wasn't going to stand long for that.
And, the bigger problem was that the Gaels - when clicking - just had too many pieces for him to account for them all. Junior Tre Bowman might be a star in other places in the MAAC, but he's been inconsistent and sometimes barely used this season for Iona. But this would be his night, on the biggest stage of the season.
Bowman's superhoop tied the game at 35, then after Curtis Dennis missed a tough layup in transition, Bowman was there to tip it in to put Iona up 39-35. After Masiello put his last cards on the table by picking up a technical foul (after being warned several times to stay in the coaching box), Bowman stepped up and hit another superhoop to put Iona up eight with five minutes left.
The Jaspers were able to cut that in half, but David Laury - another weapon that Iona has, and another piece that Manhattan looked ordinary for much of the night - came up with a couple of huge offensive rebounds, and Bowman sealed the game at the free throw line.
(Unfortunately, the most talked about aspect of the contest by the media was the final seconds. Iona took a 60-52 lead on a Laury omgdunx with six seconds left and Richards hit a superhoop as time expired. Only time hadn't officially expired, there was still 0.1 second left, and so Iona's celebratory court rush was assessed a technical foul by the officials, which made the final 60-57, irrelevant to anything except for the 4-point spread that Iona was favored by in Nevada. The game was dubbed one of the greatest gambling beats in history. The lesson? Don't gamble. And really don't gamble on sports.)
Manhattan held Momo Jones, the nation's second leading scorer, to 14 and Armand to seven, but Bowman came off the bench to score 20. Meanwhile, Manhattan only attempted 15 field goals in the second half and turned the ball over 20 times in the contest as Masiello and his team's dramatic run after a 5-14 start came to an abrupt end. As it does for all.
On the other side, it was an odd irony, the karma police showing up again if you will. Iona was the regular season champions last season, but was felled by an upstart Fairfield team in the semifinals before the BYU loss in the First Four that they are not only sick of hearing about, but I'm tired of writing about it as well.
This season, Iona still struggled mightily to close out games, with struggled maybe being the understatement of the season. Yet, in the MAAC Tournament, there they were, closing out Canisius, Niagara, and finally Manhattan, all teams that the Gaels suffered late head-scratching close defeats to, and they looked like experts at it, there was never really a doubt in the final minutes of any of the games. The 60 points here was their lowest total of the season (ironically, their lowest previous total in a win was their first against Denver, also my first game of TMM9, a game with some serious foreshadowing for Iona), yet they were able to grind out a victory when they needed it most.
As it turned out, I was sitting behind the Cluess family and didn't even know it (and next to Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore again, who was watching teams he'll play twice each in the MAAC next season). Obviously, by sitting up where I was, they were trying to stay out of the way, but they sprinted down when it became clear Iona was going to prevail.
I've been harsh on Iona at times this season, and they're probably always going to take bad shots and have a few perplexing offensive sets per game.
But there were no bad attitudes or lapses in cohesion on display Monday night. In the postgame, Momo Jones came over in tears to his family while a couple of other players did the same. When the trophy presentation started, the players lifted Cluess like a European soccer team would do.
A year after having to answer so many questions about why they couldn't be more consistent, Iona returns to the NCAA Tournament, and it's likely that the coaches' sweatsuits will with them. Why not?
And so another year in Springfield was complete. The crowds weren't great, other than the Hall of Fame, it's not a great tourist destination, and the arena leaves a little to be desired, but for me, it worked out perfectly. It wasn't too far from my home, I didn't have to face much traffic getting in or out, I got to sit pretty much wherever I wanted, and I got to see every game of the tournament.
So, selfishly, I hope it stays in Springfield forever. And I still think there's something to be said for a true neutral site tournament (the two biggest draws, Siena and Marist, played each other in the first round, it would be interesting to see what attendance would be like if both those teams were good).
I mean, what other conference would let me hold the trophy before handing it out to the winners: