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1/30/2007 01:21:00 AM
The Streak Goes On At Iona
A frustrated Jeff Ruland (standing) looks on from the Iona bench.
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Under a shoe that was under his bed, J.B. Buono located his lucky necklace on Monday morning. "I couldn't find that goddamn thing for a long time," he said, "but today I put it on and thought, 'Maybe we'll get a win.'"
Iona legend J.B. Buono, with his lucky "horns" necklace, during halftime of Monday's game.
We, for the 95-year-old Buono, is Iona. Last season, every time he wore the necklace -- on which dangles a silver hand shaped in the "horns" symbol he has used to curse Gaels opponents for the past 58 years as either team trainer or, even in emeritus, a fixture on its bench -- Iona won. The Gaels finished 23-8 in 2005-06, good for first in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and put up a respectable fight against LSU, before losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Buono lost his lucky charm before this season started, though, and it remained in its unintentional hiding place while Iona suffered through an epic 20-game losing streak. On Monday night at Hynes Athletics Center, for the Gaels' 21st game of '06-07, a winnable affair against the MAAC's third-worst team, Canisius, Buono was at the end of the bench, telling the story of the necklace during halftime.
With four freshmen in its starting lineup, Iona managed to jump out to a 13-3 lead and clung to a 32-31 advantage over the Griffins at the break. The elusive win -- and at least the beginning of the end of coach Jeff Ruland's nightmare season -- was within reach. Of the prospect of that happening, Buono said, "Oh, we'll be celebrating. I've been telling the players, if you win, I'll get you laid. And if you lose, I'll ..." Regrettably (and I really mean that), the rest of that quote is unprintable.
Such is the state of these Gaels and the severity of their curse, that even the prospect of a night of carousing, the effect of Buono's charm or a rematch against an opponent they had taken to overtime on Jan. 18, could not save them. They blew their lead for good at the 13:19 mark of the second half and lost 71-61. Adding injury to insult, their leading scorer, senior Anthony Bruin, was unable to walk by the time the final gun sounded. The only active player who saw substantial minutes in last year's NCAA tourney run, Bruin sprained his ankle in the second half. While Ruland was leading his team through their 21st straight procession of depressing, post-game handshakes, Bruin was crutching toward the locker room.
"I think they're snakebitten, I really do," said Canisius coach Tom Parrotta. "Sometimes you'd rather be lucky than good. And they need a little luck."
Ruland, a former Iona All-American who went on to become an NBA All-Star, and then returned to coach the school to three NCAA tournaments, was somewhat despairing in his postgame press conference. "If I sat up at night, and tried to think of the different things that have happened [this season], I couldn't," he said. "Now our leading scorer goes down with an ankle injury. Talk about bad karma. I've led a pretty good life; I haven't been mean to anybody. I must have a lot of stuff coming my way. I should start buying some lotto tickets."
The Gaels came into this season without four senior starters (and four of their five leading scorers) from '05-06, including the vaunted backcourt of Steve Burtt (25.2 ppg), Ricky Soliver (16.1 ppg) and Marvin McCullough (4.5 apg). Progressively, they were robbed of the services of four of their projected new starters for '06-07. Forward Gary Springer, who averaged 5.6 points and 4.7 rebounds as a sophomore, injured his knee in the offseason and is redshirting. He and Kyle Camper -- the junior point guard and team captain who broke his foot in November -- watched Monday's game in street clothes from the bench. Forward Dexter Gray, a transfer from St. John's, played four games and averaged 10.3 points before being ruled academically ineligible for the second semester. Kenny Jackson, an '05-06 reserve who could have started at two-guard alongside Camper, could not get eligible for his senior season and is no longer enrolled at Iona.
On top of all that, the Gaels lost three overtime games in January, and another, to Niagara, by one point. Current freshman starter Alejo Rodriguez, who starred on Monday by scoring 19 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, is too hurt to even participate in team practices; he couldn't even speak with the media after the game because he was receiving treatment.
The prospect of an 0-29 season is ominously looming for the Gaels, but a pair of February games remain against St. Peter's, which is 1-9 in conference. In those two dates lie the hope for avoiding the infamy shared by Savannah State (in 2005) and Prairie View (in 1992). And in the banners that hang over the gym -- 10 MAAC Championships, and eight trips to the NCAAs -- lie the consolation that this is only a bump in the road for a program that's been a perennial league powerhouse. Ruland has vowed to get Iona back to the NCAA tournament in two years. And Troy Truesdale, an ex-Gaels player ('81-85) who was conversing with Buono at halftime, said, "This losing isn't going to last. This season is like Murphy's Law. You're going to see the program come back."
Truesdale then told the story of how, back in the day, Buono had a "special rub" for injured Iona players that brought them back into good health. "He had the magic touch," Truesdale said. In a situation so dire that even the horns aren't working, perhaps Buono needs to come out of retirement.
Iona players warm up 90 minutes before gametime on Monday.
Iona will win the MAAC in 2007-08. Mark it down. Iona is the flagship program of the MAAC. Ruland has guided the Gaels to 3 NCAA appearences during his tenure as Head Coach (since 98-99). All these MAAC schools better have a nice laugh now, because Iona will be back. Next year's front-line of Springer, Gray and Indrissi (a Georgia Transfer)will be massive and talented. With a healthy Camper and Mike Harris in the back-court Iona will be plain nasty next season. Ruland will rise up and once again rule the MAAC.
Iona is flagship program in the MAAC. Coach Ruland has won 3 MAAC Titles since he took over from Tim Welsh in 1998/99. Iona is playing a lot of very young players that are learning how to play D1 Basketball. Before these Freshman graduate I think they will win at least MAAC Championship. The poor record hasn't hurt recruiting; Ruland has signed Bloomfield Tech (NJ) Star Rashon Dwight and former Wings Academy Star (now enrolled in Prep School) Andre Tarver. Iona is having a tough season, but the future is very bright.
Ruland has been a lousy coach since his first season he inherited 2 MAAC Players of the Year, plus 3 other 1,000 point scorers from from Tim Welsh and could only manage 16 wins. For 9 years he has constatnly berated his players in the press and never taken any blame for his 4 losing seasons in the last 6 years.
Before this season, he even ripped last years outstanding senior class that carried the Gaels to the NCAA's, in spite of his awful coaching. He has also often campaigned for other coaching jobs, both during and after the season.
In short, this season couldn't happen to a niceer guy.
I did not go to Iona. I just live in the area and like to watch college basketball.
Let me say this about Iona College. The fans love and support this team. There is something very unusual about this. There must be something great about Iona that an 0 and 21 team can get the kind of support for its players and coaching staff that they have during such a period in Sports history. It has to be something to do with the love and support found at Iona as well as its many great basketball achievments against the "Paul Bunyons" of basketball. I am impressed with all of this in a day where one has to win it all.
When you write a story trying to make us feel sorry for a team that has lost a lot of players, do us a favor and don't include those who decided not to study. We all feel bad for teams that lose players to injury, sickness, or just bad luck. But I sure don't feel sorry for a team that loses two players due to grades, especially when the miminum GPA requirements to compete in the NCAA are pathetically low to begin with. GO TO CLASS!
Ruland is not a bum, just a bad coach. Last seasons team had 3-4 bad loses at home to teams they were clearly better then. If they win those games they get an #11 or #12 seed in the NCAA Tourney (not a #13) and a more 'win-able'game then LSU in the first round. His 2000-01 team also was very talented but lost 10 reg season games and got a #14 Seed, although they put a big-time scare into 'Ole Miss, a better reg season would have given them a better seeed.
Ruland can recruit very well, but he is a not a good bench coach.
::Iona will win the MAAC in 2007-08. Mark it down.::
That has to be the funniest thing I have ever seen in a long time. Loyola loses hardly anyone next year, Siena has a good core group of returning players, Canisius is on the rise, as is Fairfield. Iona has no players that can prove they can WIN a single game, much less the MAAC! Just better hope all of these so-called studs can be as good in the classroom as you say they will be on the court. 10 wins maybe next year for Iona, no MAAC title for you!
you must admit ruland's teams have unachieved in the regular season, No? last years team should have never lost 7 reg. season games. they lost to siena (at home) and manhattan to close the season. not good.
Next year Iona wins 20 games, finishes 2nd in the MAAC to either Siena or Manhattan, they will go onto win the MAAC tourney and get the autobid. Dont say Marist is going to be anywhere near the top next year. Who are you kidding. Unless they are recruiting the next Jordan (michael or jared) to go there next year they havent got a chance to finish top 5 next year.