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Archive for Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Woodling: Gaels short on glory

February 13, 2007

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— Former President Clinton spoke in this northern suburb of New York City on Sunday morning.

The former prez addressed the Westchester Democratic Committee's annual Victory Breakfast. Clinton did not, however, stick around for the semi-weekly Iona College men's basketball Defeat Dinner.

A once-proud program when current coach Jeff Ruland and a talented guard named Steve Burtt played for the Gaels under the late Jim Valvano, Iona has been the laughingstock of NCAA Division I basketball this season.

So, while in the New York City area for some R & R (and caring for two grandchildren while their parents are abroad), I couldn't overcome a morbid curiosity to check out the Gaels in person.

A few hours after Clinton's speech to the Dems, the Gaels were scheduled to tip off against the Marist Red Foxes, so, what the heck, we piled into the car and headed for New Rochelle, arriving late for the tip because finding Iona College isn't easy, even with Yahoo Maps.

Anyway, I soon realized the Gaels' Hynes Athletics Center was small when the ticket window was located outside in the cold. Once inside, we traipsed up to the top row in the general-admission section and settled in for some basketball.

As we walked in, I overheard someone say, "Hey, we're doing pretty good. We're only down by six."

Not for long.

Marist, traditionally one of the top teams in the MEAC (I'm not sure what that acronym stands for, but it probably doesn't really matter), rocked and rolled past the freshman-dominated Gaels on the way to a 42-25 halftime lead.

Marist, located up the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, is one of those teams the majors hate to face in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Red Foxes boast a couple of quality shooters to go with a veteran point guard in Jared Jordan and a decent 7-footer in John Smith, who, with a shaved pate and headband, reminded me of the NBA version of Drew Gooden.

While the Red Foxes were at play, Ruland, a bear of a man who stands 6-foot-10 and roars loudly and often, spent most of his time hollering or calling 30-second timeouts to stop Marist runs.

At halftime, after walking down to the arena basement to visit the facilities (I told you the place was small), I walked along the hallway and rubber-necked the plaques of members of the school's hall of fame. One surprised me. Did you know former Royals' pitcher Dennis Leonard went to Iona? I didn't.

Back inside the arena, we watched the Red Foxes expand their bulge to 61-37 before we decided we had seen enough.

A check of the newspaper the next morning showed Marist had romped to a 79-53 triumph.

Iona's record dipped to 1-24. That's right. The Gaels have lost 24 of their 25 games. If you watched them, you wouldn't think the Gaels were that bad. Three of their losses have been in overtime, for instance.

By now, not surprisingly, Ruland is going with his young players. He started an all-freshman lineup against Marist and afterward quipped he has considered isolating them.

"I might have to quarantine them from the upperclassmen," Ruland said of his first-year players, "because they're picking up some bad habits."

When it comes to Iona College men's basketball, laughter is the only medicine.

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