Not often a mid-major team goes into a South East Conference site like Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia and comes out with a road win, but Saturday night the Iona Gaels (4-4) from New Rochelle, NY defeated the Georgia Bulldogs (2-7) 81-78 in overtime.
This was Iona's first win over an SEC team in 11 games over 27 years, although the Gaels defeated Wake Forest of the Atlantic Coast Conference earlier this year at the Paradise Jam Tournament in the Virgin Islands. Iona head coach Tim Cluess said afterward:
We fought, and fought and found a way. This is a program win for us when you come into a place like this with the history Georgia has and get a win on the road, it is just phenomenal for us.
Lamont "Momo" Jones came out of the hospital to score 25 points after suffering the prior week with a stomach illness. The senior point guard added six assists to the Iona offense after missing practise time, according to associate head coach Jared Grasso, who commented:
"Momo" was fantastic. He missed three days of practice, was in the hospital, had some stomach problems, came back yesterday, barely practised, he is a "Gamer", down the stretch he made the plays to win it for us.
Junior forward Sean Armand scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Gaels. Freshman A.J. English had a breakout game, scoring 17 for Iona. Afterwards Armand, a terrific three-point shooter, who makes an average of 45 percent of them, said:
We were very vocal on the court, my team mates helped me out, trying to be confident on free throws, no one was going to steal a win from our team, we played a full game tonight and came through with a tough W.
Iona went out to a 10-point early lead at 18-8 as English made two three-point shots and Tavon Sledge added a three as well. The Bulldogs came back and led by one at the half, 36-35.
In the second half, Georgia led by seven at 48-41 with 13:09 left, but the Gaels came back with a 15-2 run initiated by back-to-back jumpers made by Jones, a three-point shot by Armand, layup by forward Sean Jackson and capped by a three by Jones. The Gaels led 56-51 with 9:23 left.
Down the stretch Georgia went on a run of its own, outscoring Iona 11- 3 to take a 66-63 lead with 2:39 left. Armand made a clutch three-point shot with 54 seconds left and the Bulldogs missed four shots in the closing seconds to allow the game to go to overtime.
The Gaels went into overtime without one forward, Sean Jackson, who fouled out. With 1:38 left and the game tied 73, the last remaining forward in the Iona rotation, Taaj Ridley, fouled out. Infrequently used "Digs" Moikobu went in to give Iona some size under the offensive boards.
With 19 seconds left Iona senior Curtis Denis hit a three-point shot to gave Iona a two-point lead at 78-76. Donte Williams of Georgia made a free throw, then Jones made a free throw but missed the second for Iona. Gaels led 79-77 with seven seconds left.
Georgia's Nemanja Djurisic is fouled and made the first of two free throws but misses the second which would have tied the game. Iona leads by one 78-77.
Sean Armand was fouled and made both shots, and the Gaels won 81-78, a huge upset road win against a power conference team.
For Georgia, two players had double-doubles; Ken Caldwell-Pope had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Donte Williams also had 10 rebounds and added 16 points. Georgia out rebounded the Gaels 48-26 on the night. Charles Mann came off the bench to score 18 points for the Bulldogs.
Iona won despite being outscored in the paint 42-22 and the Georgia bench contributing 28 points compared to Iona's seven. Georgia missed nine of 15 free throws in overtime.
Afterward, Jared Grasso commented on the hard work the Gaels did to overcome close losses earlier in the season had been paid off with this big road win:
Guys stepped up on both ends of the floor, A.J. English was huge, "Momo" Jones, Sean Armand...for us to go on the road to an SEC team is a huge win for our program. People see Iona beats Wake Forest, Iona beats Georgia, a signature win for our program.
Iona will now have five games before the end of the year starting with Liberty at home Tuesday night and a trip to LaSalle of the Atlantic 10 in Philadelphia on Thursday. The Gaels will have a home game next Sunday against Norfolk before two more A-10 road games at Saint Joseph's and St. Bonaventure to finish out 2012.
Postgame comments courtesy of Iona Athletics.
Ken Kraetzer covers West Point football and Iona basketball for WVOX in New Rochelle, NY.