Iona rolled into the Mack Sports Complex at Hofstra with a 10-2 record and hopes of receiving an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament. The Gaels had been road warriors, winning six of their last seven, all away from home. But it was Hofstra, still searching for the right formula after the graduation of Charles Jenkins that pulled out that raced out to a 15-point halftime lead and pulled out a convincing 83-75 victory on Thursday night. Here’s five thoughts from that game, including some post game quotes.
1. Iona didn’t come to play – Whether it was because this was the first time Iona had held shoot around at a different gym from the one they were going to play in, too many ticket demands, or just being too content with a 10-2 start, Iona didn’t show up in the first half. From the opening tip it was obvious that Hofstra was the hungrier team.
“We have to do a better job at not listening to what you guys say about us,” said Iona’s Momo Jones. “We have to understand that with glitz and glamour it comes a big stage, publicity that people may not have had before and we have to do a better job of handling that. We have to know that we’re just as beatable as any other team if we don’t work as hard.”
The hustle plays, including 15 Hofstra offensive rebounds, went to the Pride and silly mistakes, including 18 first half turnovers, cost Iona. Hofstra had 13 second-chance points and 26 points off turnovers, winning both categories by eight points – the eventual difference in the game.
“[Hofstra] came and they played a heck of a game right from the get-go,” said Iona head coach Tim Cluess. “They came with more energy more energy than us, played harder than us and took it to us right from the start. It looked like it meant more to them than it did to our guys today.”
2. Hofstra’s more athletic than you think – After tonight’s game Hofstra has played in six games this season that were over 70 possessions. The Pride are 4-2 in those games with wins over Long Island, Iona, Binghamton and Colgate and losses to Oregon State and Manhattan.
While Mo Cassara is currently juggling a short bench, he’s got a host of athletic wing players like David Imes, Nathaniel Lester and Mike Moore who are able to push tempo. Continuing to push the ball may help Hofstra play up to its potential because it’ll allow the team’s talent to shine. Coming into this game the Pride were averaging 67.8 possessions per game (adjusted tempo). We may see an uptick in that during CAA play. Hofstra’s press has also proven effective this season.
“It really started in the second half of the Manhattan game a couple weeks ago,” Cassara said. “We just were struggling a bit and we started to [press] and it’s led to some good things for us.”
3. The Gaels’ “Big Three” needs help too – Too often Mike Glover, Momo Jones and Scott Machado tried to do too much. Jones was 6-20 from the field, Machado was saddled by turnovers and foul troubles. Glover went for 20 and 13, but often he seemed to be playing one-on-five, especially during the first half.
Kyle Smyth, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury, came back to shoot 4-7 from three and help carry Iona back in the second half, but it was obvious from his five fouls that he’s still getting into game shape.
Taaj Ridley is a nice complement to Glover because he’s a slashing big man instead of a traditional post, but he turned the ball over too much against Hofstra and got just five boards in 21 minutes of action. Iona needs to find a consistent option for the nights when an opponent is able to take away one of the big three so that the offense can continue to function at a high level and not go into a half long funk during MAAC play.
4. Dwan McMillan was the best player on the court – Part of the reason Machado was so off his game was the play of Hofstra’s senior guard. McMillan showed the ability to stay in front of Machado and drive him into help defenders, which cut off the passing lanes for Iona’s talented distributor. While Machado had 10 assists, he also had six turnovers and committed five fouls in 27 minutes.
Part of the reason Machado spent so much time on the bench was the fact that McMillan was able to break Iona’s press and get Machado into foul trouble. McMillan shot just 3-11 from the field, but his jumper from the right-hand wing pushed the Pride’s lead to 69-60 with 5:38 to play and essentially sealed the game for Hofstra. McMillan finished with 10 points, nine assists and two steals in 40 minutes of action.
“I thought Dwan was great,” Cassara said. “I gave him a lot of credit in the locker room. His attitude and effort in practice in shoot around today. He just kept saying, ‘We’re not going to lose. We’re going to win tonight. We’re going to win.’”
5. The momentum has switched – Iona need a win tonight to have any chance of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in March. The Gaels have some good wins over Richmond, St. Joseph’s, Denver and LIU, but there’s no great W on the schedule. Unless Hofstra goes on a big run in CAA play, this will be a decent loss at best. Iona played a tough road schedule, but the Gaels had to be perfect to be an NCAA team. They’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way and win the MAAC tournament. For Hofstra, this should provide a big boost heading into the reboot of CAA play, which starts again on Monday against VCU.
“I don’t think we’ll have any problem getting up for Monday night,” Cassara said. “You’ve got a team that was in the Final Four, a team that beat us last year. I think we’re past that. This is a little bit of a turning point for our team. It’s not about those constant reminders, but it’s about us starting to get better.”