When Lamont “Momo” Jones walked through the doors of University of Dayton Arena two days ago, Iona’s senior guard didn’t have negative flashbacks. He didn’t even reflect on what happened in that very building a year ago.
“This is a new team,” Jones said. “We can’t put the pressures of what happened last year on a new team. We’ve just got to go out and play the way that we’ve been playing this year and try to get a win.”
Memories of what happened to Iona won’t be soon forgotten, even if Jones – the nation’s third-most prolific scorer – has.
Last season, the Gaels were one of the final four at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament – otherwise known as the First Four – and played BYU in Dayton for the right to advance to the main field of 64 teams.
In that game, Iona built a 25-point lead in the first half, but the Cougars stormed back for a 78-72 win at University of Dayton Arena, making for the largest comeback in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
Perhaps being on the wrong side of that game would make a team gun-shy, but Iona, a No. 15 seed in this year’s tournament, has only projected confidence heading into Friday’s matchup with No. 2-seeded Ohio State.
In fact, comments Jones made to the New York Post during the week are the exact opposite – “I feel like we’re supposed to win, and if we win, it’s not going to be like, ‘Oh, we beat Ohio State.’ It is, ‘OK, on to the next round and let’s get this.’ ”
Some feel that should make for bulletin board material for an Ohio State team hoping to ride its current eight-game winning streak to a second consecutive trip to the Final Four.
“That’s basketball – people are going to talk,” senior big man Evan Ravenel told BSB. “I know if I was on the other team that I would be confident that my team was going to win. You can’t go into a basketball game thinking anything else. I know they’ll be ready, but so will we.”
The comments make for a fun opener, if nothing else, but the game truly does bring a clash of styles. Iona is the second-most efficient offensive teams in the country, averaging a shade less than 81 points per game, using it’s up-tempo pace to speed games up.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have prided themselves on playing staunch defense and creating offensive opportunities through not allowing the opposition to get clean looks at the basket the entire season. OSU allowed only 59.5 points per game in Big Ten action.
Still, the Gaels are confident that offense wins.
“They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country and we’re one of the best offensive teams,” said Jones, an Arizona transfer. “So when two teams like that collide, and it can be a great matchup.
“If we come out and play the way that we know how to play, knock down shots, play together, play with poise, play with confidence, I think we’ll be OK.”
Ohio State never reached 80 points during the Big Ten season and it has faced consistent struggles on the offensive end. Maybe that’s why it is perceived to be a team that could have a hard time coping with Iona’s up-tempo style.
The Buckeyes, however, are quick to point out that they’re one of the most athletic teams in basketball. And if Ohio State is put in position to run, it is comfortable getting out in transition and playing at that pace.
“It is a different style than we’re used to in the Big Ten, but I think a lot of people are overlooking what we’re capable of with our athleticism,” sophomore forward Sam Thompson told BSB.
“I think we’re looking forward to getting out in transition and scoring in different ways. Just because we haven’t had to do that this season doesn’t mean that we can’t. It always is our main goal to get offense out of our defense and to get easy scoring chances in transition. We can do it."
But talking only gets the teams so far.
"All that is left to do is play," Ravenel said.
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