Iona head coach Tim Cluess high-fived his two captains—senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones and junior guard Sean Armand—as they left their postgame press conference following their 78-71 win over Rider on Saturday night.
“You have two days off,” Cluess said with a chuckle.
Armand and Jones looked back at him, and Jones said, “You know I’m always in the gym.”
That’s the workman’s mentality and dedication that Cluess has been trying to instill in his team all season long.
Just two nights ago, Cluess called out his Iona squad, saying, “Some don’t care,” after their loss to Marist, which extended the Gael’s losing streak to three games.
So it was no surprise Cluess revolved his game plan around his two passionate leaders, who combined for 56 of Iona’s 78 points (32 for Jones and 24 for Armand).
“In a game like this, when your team is struggling and a lot of guys questioning what they’re doing, and you have two players that can take the pressure off the rest of the guys and say these guys are going to carry us tonight that allows them to get the feel back and just play hard,” Cluess said. “And hopefully we’ll feel a little bit more relaxed knowing Momo and Sean are back.”
Coming into Saturday night’s matchup, Rider was the No. 1 defense in the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference against the three. Armand went 4-6 from behind the arc.
Rider was also had the No. 2 field-goal percentage defense. Jones went 10 of 19 from the field.
When Jones was asked about Rider’s defense, he shrugged his shoulders, smirked and said, “I scored 32.”
The Jones and Armand show started early. The NCAA’s highest-scoring duo combined to create an eight-point run, which gave Iona an early 16-11 lead with 13:39 left to play in the first half.
From that point on, the two teams, who were tied for third in the MAAC, exchanged points. The biggest lead all night was an eight-point Iona advantage with 4:01 left to play in the first half.
Rider erased a seven-point halftime deficit and tied the game at 42 with a 9-2 run. The Broncs’ scoring was led by senior guard Jonathon Thompson, who finished with a season-high 26 points, and junior guard Anthony Myles, who finished with 19 points.
Jones scored five unanswered points to break a 55-55 tie with nine minutes left to play in the game, and Iona held on to the lead the rest of the way.
“Tonight we came out and played with energy from start to finish,” Jones said. “And we showed we wanted this win.”
With 3:34 left to play in the game, Armand made a milestone layup, becoming the 34th player in Iona’s history to reach 1,000 career points.
“It feels good to do it on my home court, and after we get a win, which is more important,” Armand said. “It’s an honor to be part of that club.”
Iona’s win was also a direct result of better foul shooting. After missing critical free throws in the double-overtime loss to Marist, Iona returned to form against Rider.
The No. 6 free-throw shooting team in the nation (76.4 percent) drained 21 of their 26 foul shots. Jones led with 11, adding to his nation-leading 162 converted free throws.
Iona’s next game will be at Manhattan on Feb. 15 at 7 p.m.
All quotes and information were obtained firsthand.