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Iona flaunts offense, proves it’s tournament caliber in BracketBusters win over Nevada

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NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – As low-scoring affairs proliferate around the country, today’s BracketBusters game between Nevada and Iona gave us something far different.

Despite an inconclusive at-large impact, these two offensive-minded teams provided a nice respite from the many slow-paced and low efficiency games we’ve become accustomed to as the Gaels  prevailed with a 90-84 win, the first ever meeting between the two programs.

With 13 NBA scouts and a national audience fixated on the play of the Gaels Scott Machado, the senior guard may have turned the Best Point Guard in the Country argument into a definitive statement, finishing with a game high 15 assists (eclipsing Siena’s Ronald Moore’s to become the MAAC’s all-time leader) including a handful of dazzling passes that left Wolf Pack defenders flummoxed.

The consummate point guard, Machado attempted only seven shots but still managed to finish with 13-points, contributing  to exactly half of his team’s point total.

“He knows each of his teammate’s strengths and where different guys can score,” said Iona head coach Tim Cluess after the game. “And because he’s shooting the three well this year, people have to honor that. When he comes off a pick and roll…that sometimes takes two defenders, and he knows where the open guy is.”

Trailing for most of the opening minutes, the Gaels turned the game in their favor with three minutes remaining in the first half. Down six, Iona went on a 13-6 run to take the lead by applying a full-court press that buckled the Wolfpack’s offensive attack, a run that was spearheaded by many of the team’s bench players.

In the second half, Clueess kept the game in fifth gear by continuing with a high-energy press that wore the Wolf Pack down. The strategy helped turn 16 forced turnovers in to 20 of his team’s points, and proved to be the key to victory.

Following the loss, a portion of the attention and post-game praise went to Nevada’s Olek Czyz. A former Duke Blue Devil who returned home to Reno in 2010 to finish out his college career, Czyz showed versatility at both ends of the court, finishing with career high 28-points on 9-16 shooting.

With both teams currently projected as NCAA Tournament #12 seeds, the door to securing an at-large bid may be closed; their hopes hinge on winning their respective conference tournaments.

While Nevada appears to lack enough ball-handlers to compete with an up-tempo type team for 40-minutes, the Gaels certainly have the personnel to stir an upset in the NCAA Tournament, assuming they can play some semblance of defense to compliment their vaunted offense.

While Machado, “MoMo” Jones and Mike Glover demand a majority of the attention this team receives, the Gaels bench is composed of a number of shooters that help spread the floor and keep defenders honest, including guard Randy Dezouvre, who finished tonight’s game with a career high 17-points on 8-10 shooting.

“My man Randy is the energy guy that helps off the bench,” Machado said after the game. “Our bench got stops and forced turnovers to help us get the lead before half. This was a big game, and we’re just trying to get on a roll before the playoffs.”

At 13-3 with only two conference games remaining, the Gaels currently hold a one-game lead over Loyola. With wins over Maryland and St. Joseph’s, many expected a near perfect MAAC campaign to follow and a historic season to be in the works.

But because of a few unforeseen losses, even the guys in-house aren’t looking to declare themselves as automatic quality.

“Who am I to judge? But we definitely just want to be in the tournament,” Machado said. “We can compete with anybody, as long as we bring it.”

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.

VIDEO: UNCW maintains two-game lead atop CAA standings

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Early in Colonial Athletic Association play, multiple teams made cases for themselves as contenders for the regular season title. But in recent weeks a clear favorite has emerged: UNCW. Kevin Keatts’s team won its 20th game of the season Saturday afternoon, moving to 12-2 in CAA play, with a 78-68 win over James Madison on NBC Sports Network.

The Seahawks, who have now won 11 straight games, were led offensively by Craig Ponder, who scored a team-high 19 points with Chris Flemmings adding 17 and 11 rebounds and Jordon Talley’s 15 points, four rebounds and four assists. UNCW shot just over 39 percent from the field, but they outscored James Madison 30-12 from beyond the arc and forced 17 JMU turnovers.

James Madison played without a key cog in leading scorer Ron Curry, who suffered a knee injury in the Dukes’ win at Charleston Thursday night. Tom Vodanovich scored 17 points and Winston Grays 15 for the Dukes, who are now 19-8 overall and 9-5 in CAA play.