- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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FAIRFIELD -- As he prepared to try and lead Iona back to the NCAA Tournament, Gaels junior Mike Glover didn’t have to look far for support. Yesterday, Steve Burtt Jr., a former Gale who led the team to its last NCAA Tournament in 2006, called Glover to wish him well.
“He told me to keep tradition going,” Glover said after Monday's shootaround. “He said he’s proud of us and he wishes he was here to watch us play.”
Glover and No. 2 Iona will try and return to the NCAA tournament tonight when it faces No. 4 St. Peter’s tonight in the MAAC Tournament final tonight at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn. The Gaels will face a St. Peter’s team it has bested twice already this season, but the Peacocks are coming off an upset against No. 1 Fairfield.
“It’s no pressure at all,” Glover said. “It’s just another game to go out there and play St. Peter’s. Just go out there and play Iona basketball and do what we are capable of doing and rebound and pushing the ball well and sharing the ball and getting defensive stops.”
Even though his team is relatively young, with no seniors among its top four scorers, Iona coach Tim Cluess thought his team had a chance to possibly make the NCAA Tournament this season. Yet, over halfway through the season, the Gaels were just 13-10 overall.
Behind a better defensive effort that has led to better rebounding and defensive position, as well as an improvement in shooting, Iona has won its last nine straight as it heads into tonight’s title game against a team it defeated by a combined 32 points in the squads’ two regular season matchups.
These teams have met three times in the finals, with Iona winning two of the three matchups. The last time these two battled was in 2006, with Iona winning and getting the NCAA bid. Tonight, the Gaels will see if they can have a repeat.
“We’re just trying to get back on the map,” Cluess said. “Iona’s got a great program, a great tradition and we’re trying to keep it up.”