Sunday, March 17, 2013
No. 15 Iona will face with Ohio State
By Kieran Darcy
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Iona is back in the Big Dance, and headed back to "the scene of the crime."
That’s how star guard Lamont "Momo" Jones described the fact that the Gaels will be playing in Dayton, Ohio, for the second consecutive NCAA tournament.
Iona, the No. 15 seed in the West Region, will play No. 2 seed Ohio State on Friday.
"I'm excited," Jones said, after the bracket was revealed. "I'm ready to go back to work."
Lamont "Momo" Jones celebrates after Iona's Metro Atlantic Conference tournament victory.
Last year, Iona received one of the final four at-large bids, and had to play a play-in game in Dayton, in order to advance to the main bracket of 64 teams.
The result? The Gaels accumulated a 25-point first-half lead, but then gave it all away and then some, losing 78-72 -- the biggest comeback in NCAA tournament history.
Jones said his team has nothing to prove, despite last year’s collapse. But he did learn something from the experience.
"Just don’t take things for granted," Jones said. "I think we got so comfortable -- never get comfortable. We let our foot off the pedal."
Unlike last year, the Gaels (20-13, 11-7) knew they would hear their name called this Selection Sunday, after winning the MAAC tournament last week. They watched the selection show in the Mulcahy Gymnasium on campus, on a giant projection screen, surrounded by a couple hundred family members, friends and fans gathered for the festivities.
Coach Tim Cluess was happy too, although he thought his team might have gotten a little more respect from the selection committee.
"We were hoping for a 14 [seed] possibly," Cluess said. "But they know what they’re doing, and they put us there for a reason, and you gotta play somebody great regardless.
"Ohio State, in Ohio -- it’s gonna be a home crowd we’re fighting as well. So we gotta go out there and play our best basketball of the year."
The Buckeyes (26-7, 13-5), ranked 10th in the country, finished tied for second in the Big Ten in the regular season. But they won the Big Ten tournament by defeating Wisconsin on Sunday, and carry an eight-game winning streak into the Big Dance.
Ohio State has an elite scorer in DeShaun Thomas, a 6-foot-7 junior forward who is 20th in the country at 19.6 points per game. But Iona has Jones, a 6-foot senior and the third-leading scorer in the country, averaging 23 per contest.
It’s a matchup between the second-best offensive team in the country, the Gaels (80.7 points per game), versus the 22nd-best defensive team in the country, the Buckeyes (58.7 points allowed per game).
A contrast in styles, to be sure.
Cluess thinks his returning players, including Jones, will benefit from gaining some tournament experience a year ago, despite the game ending in heartbreaking fashion.
And he plans on talking about that heartbreak, too.
"Just use it as motivation," Cluess said. "Make them understand that every possession matters -- not just on the offensive end but on the defensive end."
These Gaels have a rare opportunity in life, come Friday. A second chance to make a first impression.