Iona ran away with the MAAC this season, but had two perplexing losses in the process. Add another head-scratcher to the Gaels’ season – but at the worst possible time.
Fairfield stunned the MAAC tournament’s top seed Sunday with an 85-75 win, dealing a serious blow to Iona’s NCAA tournament hopes in a big way. Only one MAAC team has ever received an at-large bid when failing to win the automatic bid, which was a Manhattan team that was 25-4. The Gaels don’t stack up compared to other bubble teams.
The Fairfield fans seem to think so. They chanted “N-I-T, N-I-T, N-I-T” as time wound down.
Not that Iona coach Tim Cluess sees it that way.
“If you’re going to pick eight or nine teams out of the Big East, that’s nonsense,” Cluess told ZagsBlog. “Those teams aren’t as good as we are.”
Iona (25-6 overall) didn’t have many excuses against Fairfield, though. It was in control until midway through the second half when a 16-1 Fairfield run put Iona behind for good.
The Stags were without their best player, guard Derek Needham, who’s out for the season with an injury. Compared to Iona’s wealth of talent with MAAC player of the year Scott Machado, NBA hopeful Mike Glover and Arizona transfer Momo Jones, the loss was even more perplexing.
Still, Iona’s not done playing. It just might not be in the NCAA tournament.
“NIT [or] NCAA, we have to look at that as it’s a national tournament. We’re going to look at it as an honor,” Cluess told ZagsBlog. “We would love to play in the NCAA, but if we don’t get that we’re thrilled to be going to the NIT because it’s still a reward for what these guys have done this year.”
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