Iona loses 18-point lead in loss to Siena

Twenty days ago at Madison Square Garden Iona handed Siena its worst ever Division I conference loss, 95-59. Five minutes into Monday night’s game in Albany the Gaels looked to be well on their way to a similar result up 20-2, but the end result was anything but what they expected. Siena clawed back and pulled out a 65-62 win to send Iona into a three-way tie atop the MAAC with Loyola (MD) and Manhattan at 7-2.

The loss generates even more questions about focus and dealing with adversity for Iona. Yes, this game didn’t go perfectly. Scott Machado only played 25 minutes because he received a technical foul while sitting on the bench. The Gaels shot 3-18 from three. Sean Armand, who personally made a MAAC record 10 threes the last time these two teams played, finished the game 0-1 from deep.

Even still, in terms of raw basketball talent Siena isn’t in Iona’s class. Machado, Mike Glover and Momo Jones could instantly start for the Mitch Buonaguro’s squad. The Saints are a developing team that already lost to Fordham at home by 15 points and at St. Peter’s by seven. There are some nice pieces, but even after this win the Saints are still only tied with Rider and Niagara for fifth in the conference at 4-5.

Iona thinks it’s an NCAA tournament team. People have talked about how the Gaels could be headed to the Sweet 16 or a make a magical run even further. Now they’ll be hard pressed just to get into the tournament. Three days in March in Springfield, MA are going to determine whether or not Iona even makes the Field of 68. (I’d give them about a 33% chance there.) It didn’t have to be this way, but playing in a conference like the MAAC your margin for error is slim – and it certainly doesn’t allow for blowing 18-point leads.

But this wasn’t just about blowing that big lead. Sure, that’s not a good thing, but Iona still led by 10 as this game went to half. In the second twenty minutes Siena outscored Iona 36-23. Those 36 points came in just 31 second half possessions. That’s a defensive efficiency of 1.16 points per possession and goes right back to Iona’s Achilles Heel – defense. That side of the ball is about desire, fitness and athleticism. Iona has two of those taken care of. Do the Gaels care enough to do the dirty work that will carry them to a conference title and a possible NCAA tournament win?

Over the next few games we’re going to find out. We’ll find out if losing to Siena is enough to make someone other than Glover (19 points, 12 boards, 4 blocks) realize they have to rebound the ball. (The Saints had 14 offensive rebounds, which led to 12 second-chance points.) Siena got 14 of its 34 missed shots back. That’s 41.2%. The Saints had put up  a mark that good just two other times this season – against Albany and St. Bonaventure. I don’t think Iona really wants to be compared to either of those teams. Iona’s second best rebounder is Machado. He’s the point guard. That’s a problem.

“This is my best win, this is the team’s best win … since I’ve been the head coach. That was a phenomenal comeback,” Buonaguro said afterwards.

Siena played just seven guys. They played hard for 40 minutes, Iona played for five. This is what happens.

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