Iona-Monmouth Thriller Features Bench Antics, Flared Tempers
Move over Duke-North Carolina. Step aside Kentucky-Louisville. There's a new big rivalry in college basketball...and it comes from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Tempers flared in Friday night's tilt between the Monmouth Hawks and the Iona Gaels, marring a nationally televised showdown between the conference's top teams. The two teams eventually came together as the clock hit triple zeroes, not to exchange pleasantries and well wishes, but more harsh words and shoves.
Groundwork for the chippy game, a 110-102 Monmouth victory, appeared to have been laid on Wednesday, as Iona head coach Tim Cluess went after the Monmouth bench, particularly the walk-ons that have earned national acclaim for their wacky antics during Monmouth's successful season thus far. The bench guys started early in the year, when the Hawks pulled off some early season victories against elite competition, and needless to say, they pulled out all the stops for their visit to New Rochelle.
However, Cluess, currently in his sixth year manning the Iona ( sidelines, was critical of the courtside debauchery leading up to the game. "Are they on the team?" Cluess said in his Wednesday comments. "I didn't know if they were on the team or wearing uniforms as cheerleaders." Cluess would then double down on his comments, saying "I've never seen them on the court doing anything, so to me, they're not basketball players."
Despite the comments from Cluess coming during the week leading up to the slugfest, the infant rivalry's origin can also be traced to last season's MAAC Tournament, where Cluess and Hawks coach King Rice exchanged unfriendly words after an on-court incident left two players injured, with accusations that each player "faked" their ailments being launched at the other. Iona (9-7, 6-1 MAAC) would win the game 95-77 en route to their 5th consecutive appearance in the MAAC title game. Monmouth (13-4, 5-1 MAAC) is very new to the conference, joining during the 2013-14 season from the NEC.
The two teams will meet again this season, as the Gaels will visit Monmouth on February 19.
As a Marist College graduate, Geoff Magliocchetti knows how heated MAAC hoops can be. Share your MAAC memories with him on Twitter @GeoffMags5490.
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