Anyone who followed Iona in the 2011-12 season knows that no Gaels' lead is a safe lead. No matter how much time remains on the clock.
In Tuesday night's play-in game, Iona led BYU by as many as 25 points in the first half, but the lead evaporated into the Dayton air. The Cougars took away the Gaels' transition game, which favors Tim Cluess' fast-paced offense, and Iona couldn't score in the half court.
The Gaels ultimately fell, 78-72.
In MAAC play, Iona relinquished other comfortable leads. The Gaels led rival Manhattan by 17 points with less than eight minutes left, but a stagnant half-court offense and missed foul shots by Mike Glover enabled the Jaspers to storm back and win on a miracle buzzer-beater.
Then, just 11 days later, the Gaels opened on a 20-2 run against Siena. Though they allowed the Saints back into the game, Iona still held an 11-point lead with nine minutes left. However, Siena outplayed Iona down the stretch and won, 65-62.
I actually missed the first half of Tuesday's game, but I received several texts from friends who were absolutely infatuated by the Gaels' play. By all accounts, Iona dominated BYU in the opening period.
Even when BYU closed the half on a 16-5 run, Iona still seemed like a lock for a Thursday date with Marquette. The Gaels led, 55-40.
Then the second half happened.
Iona couldn't score in the half court, and the team's collective body language emitted a complacent aura. The Gaels lacked passion. That was evident, and it's an issue Tim Cluess dealt with all season.
As someone who witnessed the collapse against Manhattan, I recognized Iona's complacency and had a nervous feeling the Gaels would lose after Brandon Davies' jumper cut the lead to 10 with 12:47 left.
The Gaels were frustrated. It almost felt like they were already losing.
Meanwhile, the Cougars were high on adrenaline, knowing their opponent was vulnerable.
But, still, Iona just seemed too good—and too capable of reigniting its offense. And when Jermel Jenkins scored five consecutive points for Iona, you could feel somewhat of a shift.
But as quickly as the Gaels regained momentum, the Cougars usurped it again.
It's truly a shame that Iona's players have an inability to fight for 40 minutes. With Scott Machado, MoMo Jones and Glover, this team is loaded with talent.
Unfortunately, though, that talent couldn't spark a Cinderella run, let alone a single win. We've seen the last of Machado and Glover at the college level, and they'll graduate with a 0-1 NCAA tournament record.
Cluess will be faced with the tall task of replacing one of the nation's best point guards and his perfect complement.
If only he can inject some passion into next year's team, he might be alright.
For your printable bracket for the 2012 NCAA tournament, click here.
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