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Iona Men's Basketball Dancing Again

Iona wins another MAAC title in Albany.
Iona wins another MAAC title in Albany.

More than 350 men’s college basketball teams started the season back in November. Just 68 will be left when the NCAA tournament bracket is announced Sunday. And as usual, Iona College is in.

March comes. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference holds its tournament. The Gaels win.

Rinse, repeat.

Even during a down year for Iona and its conference, the Gaels have found a way into the big dance. It’s the fourth straight season and sixth time in head coach Tim Cluess’ nine years at the private New Rochelle, New York campus of about 4,000 students that the team has made the national tournament.

Iona started the season 2-9, but got hot at the right time — and is now on a 10-game win streak.

“This one is a little exciting even though I look gassed right is because of what we went through as a team early on and where we were. For those guys to come from where we were to where we are now is just unbelievable in my book and I’m really proud of them,” Cluess said.

A modest 17-15, Iona edged St. Peter’s by a bucket, beat host Siena in the semifinals, and then knocked off Monmouth 81-60 in Monday’s conference championship game at Albany’s Times Union Center.

“I reflected back on all the people who have been in my life, basketball-wise, from my family to my coaches at all levels, and I’m just so blessed to do what I do,” Cluess said. “I truly believe god has blessed me by having this opportunity and we want to set a bar now for someone else to try to beat.”

The Gaels have won 20 of their last 22 games at the TU Center. And senior guard Rickey McGill has been a big reason why. Named tournament MVP, McGill became the first men’s basketball player in league history to win four MAAC championships.

Iona reached the NCAA tournament as the MAAC’s four seed a year ago. This year, the Gaels became the first No. 1 seed to win the conference tourney since 2010.

“It shows how much time we put in the gym as a team, how we never quit and never gave up, and we’re here now,” McGill said.

McGill and the rest of the Gaels will find out their next opponent Sunday. It’s likely they’ll end up in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, fighting for a chance to face a No. 1 seed after the play-in round.

But like 16th-seeded UMBC showed last year against Virginia, anything is possible in March, as long as you’re in the bracket. Like Iona. Like usual.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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