After Monday's practice, I had a chance to talk with several of the Iona Gaels who will play Santa Clara Wednesday night in the College Insider.com Tournament Championship Game.
Sean Armand is a freshman guard who has been filling in at small forward, as sophomore Kyle Smyth was injured in the Metro Atlantic Athletic championship game. Sean is averaging 5.5 points per game and has made 42 three-point shots on the season at a 41 percent rate. He had 20 points against East Tennessee State on Saturday.
How tough was it to win at East Tennessee?
SA: They had a crowd like ours, it was a packed house. It was us five guys against everyone in the arena. We just had to stay together, a lot of talking got us through the game on both ends of the floor. It was a good crowd, hard game to win.
On filling in as a starter for Kyle Smyth.
SA: I'm loving the opportunity to start. Kyle Smyth is my roommate on the road, he gives me a lot of advice, so filling his shoes has been pretty easy: Just play my role, play defense and everything else going to fall into place.
On having the confidence to take shots in the game.
SA: It is just confidence from the beginning of the year. I am a basketball player, freshman or not, I'm going to play basketball, there is no fear on the basketball court. Again with a lot of talking with Smyth, and the upperclassmen, they have confidence in me to shoot the ball, so I'm going to do it.
On playing in the postseason.
SA: Happy to play with Ra (Rashon Dwight) and Alejo (Rodriquez) again. They really wanted to keep going, they did not want to end the season like that, their senior season. I'm proud to be on the court with them and to play these postseason games, so it is a real honor.
On what he learned from disappointment at the MAAC championship game.
SA: We will never quit, we never quit any game, but just because you beat a team earlier in the season, the next time you see them doesn't mean they have not improved or changed things up, so we got to bring it every night. Things not falling, shots not falling, we got to adjust, go inside-outside, make things work.
On playing Santa Clara.
SA: We know they have good shooters, they are a good team, we will start from there.
On adjustment to college life.
SA: School work is good, lots of study hall. I'm a good student so it's not really a big issue. Stay in library, stay in study hall and get the work done. I'm planning to be a mass communications major.
On preparing for Wednesday night.
SA: It starts on defense, I'm just trying to stay on the court. Just get a charge for Smyth, get a charge, play some defense, get a win for Alejo and Ra.
Congratulations on a great season and best wishes for Wednesday night.
SA: Thank you.
Iona senior forward Alejo Rodriquez is a fifth-year senior, having redshirted one season. He is averaging 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game at power foward.
Alejo, what was it like to play at East Tennessee on Saturday?
AR: It was a hostile environment, we got off to a quick start, so we caught them off guard, but then they came back. It was a very hard-fought game.
What adjustments were made to come back from 10 points down?
AR: We rushed a little bit. We were going too fast, we slowed down and played our game. We got into their game a bit. We have to do what we need to win by playing defense, and running, and pushing the ball. Once we did that, we were able to settle down and get the win.
Can you describe the poise the team displayed down the stretch of the game?
AR: The team has definitely grown up, since the MAAC tournament till now the team has grown up tremendously. Everybody has grown up, the freshman are all now sophomores, they have all these games under their belts. We are more mature, more poised in these situations, we don't get rattled.
Your thoughts on being able to play four postseason games and a championship game Wednesday night?
AR: It is good, the way the MAAC ended wasn't right. We were not happy the way it ended, we thought we should have won, but we didn't. We wanted to give our best effort in this tournament, and we have been able to get wins. Everyone has been contributing, some say about Smyth (being hurt), but we are trying to win it for him. We want to win for our fans too, they have been with us supporting us all year.
What are your thoughts about how you have seen the program improve over your five years at Iona?
AR: Yes I've seen a lot, it is great to leave the program on a high note. After my freshman year, the whole team was hurt, we won two games, three coaches, so it has been different, I've seen a lot of change, things being built. But it is great. I'm happy to have a chance to win, and do it with fans and everybody.
Will you have a lot of friends and family at the game?
AR: My whole family will be there, friends, everybody, last game.
What are your plans after the season and graduation?
AR: After the season, rest a bit, get a little rest, then working out and preparing for the next mission in life.
How have you been able to overcome a number of injuries to now play in a championship game?
AR: I just keep pushing, my mom raised me to never be a quitter, to always keep pushing. Sometimes, the cards don't fall your way, sometimes you don't get the best breaks, but I have to keep pushing. I have a little brother and sister, I want to show them that no matter what happens, you can overcome any obstacles.
Thoughts about going out to play Santa Clara on Wednesday night?
AR: Just get a W, that is it, get a W, for our fans, our families, the coaching staff, guys from the past, everybody who has been part of the program since I have been here, get it for everybody.
Congratulations, best wishes for Wednesday night.
AR Thank you, I appreciate it.
Tomorrow we will talk with junior point guard Scott Machado and Iona head coach Tim Cluess
Ken Kraetzer Covers Iona basketball and West Point football for WVOX 1460 AM and WVOX.com. Reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org