The Iona College Gaels got back on track this weekend with road wins Friday night at Fairfield (71-62) and Sunday at Saint Peter's (64-40).
The Gaels are 17-5 on the season and 9-2 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. They are tied for first place with Loyola of Maryland and Manhattan College, who both won Sunday.
On Friday night, the Gaels went out to a 17-point lead with 37-15 in the first half, but let Fairfield make a second half run to narrow the gap to four points with 2:42 left. The Gaels made five of six free throws in the last minute to hold on to the much needed win.
Lamont Jones had 20 points on 7-14 shooting with two threes. Scott Machado had 18 points and five assists. Michael Glover continued his consistent performance with a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. Taaj Ridley coming off the bench had seven points. Randy Desouvre started at the four position but did not score.
The Fairfield win made the Gaels feel a whole lot better after losing at Siena 65-62 on Monday night, a game in which they controlled much of the way after going out to a 20-2 lead. Siena narrowed the deficit to ten at the half and took the lead with 2:28 left after two Rob Poole free throws. Iona shot 34.4 percent from the field and just three of 16 on three-point shots.
The loss wasted a 19 point, 12 rebound and four blocked shot performance of Mike Glover. Scott Machado was held to three assists on the night. Siena was led by O.D. Anosike, who had 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Sunday afternoon, Saint Peter's went into the game with a disappointing 4-17 record after winning the MAAC conference and playing in the NCAA tournament last year. Coach John Dunne again had his team come out playing a slow ball-control style that kept the Gaels from using their fast break.
Afterwards Coach Dunne said about his strategy in playing Iona:
"Try not to give them points in transition, don't give Glover dunks. Try your hardest to keep Machado out of the paint, and don't give Armand and Smyth open rhythm threes."
Iona went out to an early 8-2 lead over St. Peter's in Jersey City. The Gaels again started Randy Dezouvre at forward over Taaj Ridley whose offensive numbers have slipped in recent games.
Ra'Shad James and now Sean Armand have been in as Tim Cluess uses a rotation at the four. A couple of Peacock baskets have narrowed the score to 8-6 Gaels, with just under ten minutes left in the first half.
St. Peter's playing methodically and shooting well produced an eight-point run, taking a 10-8 lead on four from Darius Conley.
Head Coach John Dunne, like he did in MAAC Championship game, has slowed the pace of the game to a crawl, forcing half-court play and using the shot clock.
The Gaels used a rotation at the three and four forward spots of Randy Dezouvre and Kyle Smyth starting, and Sean Armand, Ra'Shad James and Taaj Ridley coming off the bench. Sean Armand scored 12 points coming off the bench on 5-11 shooting.
After a low-scoring, slow-paced first half that ended with Iona leading 21-15, the game picked up in the second half. Mike Glover opened with two inside scores which caused John Dunne to call time out.
A Randy Dezouvre inside score gave Iona a 32-22 lead. Machado followed with a three as the Gaels took over and sped up the tempo. The Gaels went on a 11-2 run, highlighted by a dunk and a layup by Dezouvre.
With the game broken open, Scott Machado put on a show with a rebound, length of the court run, fake and layup to give Iona a 53-34 lead. Machado followed up with fast break drive down lane, then offered "Momo" Jones an alley-oop pass, which his partner at guard layups for a 57-34 margin.
After the game Coach Dunne said that, "You are not going to win scoring forty points."
Coach Cluess singled out Dezouvre, who had nine point and five rebounds in 21 minutes, for praise afterwards,
"Randy brought the energy that we thought he could bring. You can see the energy that he inspires the rest of the team, gets us extra possessions, just does the dirty man things that need to be done. I am really proud of him."
Iona utilized a variety of defenses, Scott Machado commented, C"oach (Cluess) knows what he is doing on the defense end. When coach sees something, he calls it, and we just do it."
Machado added about Saint Peter's ability to slow down Iona's running game:
"Once they shoot they like to send two men back so they can stop the fast break. They were collecting offensive rebounds and we were not clearing rebounds so we could not run. Once we started to do that in the second half we started to run."
The Fairfeld and Saint Peter's wins put the Gaels back in a first-place tie in the MAAC race for the regular season championship and in favorable seeding positions for the conference tournament the first weekend of March. Iona will be working on beating the slow-down tactics that have lulled them to sleep in the second half of games like Manhattan and Seana.
I have to admit it is a pleasure to watch this team perform when it is playing its up-tempo style. It will be a long time before we again see anything like the passing talent of Scott Machado and the secure hands and aggressiveness of Mike Glover under the basket. Kyle Smyth and Sean Armand are amazing to watch when their jump shots are on.
Next year watching "Momo" Jones could be special, but veteran Iona basketball fans used to the cyclical rebuilding of a mid-major program, will be heard to say, "Remember the year that Mike Glover, Scott Machado and "Momo" Jones all played on the same Gael team?"
Enjoy the fun while it lasts.
Ken Kraetzer is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
Ken covers West Point football and Iona basketball for WVOX 1460 AM and Sons of the American Legion Radio. Follow his updates on Twitter at: SAL50NYRadio.