What's a Gael?
That and other things to do with Iona seem pertinent, after the Gaels upended all manners of history in shocking No. 10 Alabama 72-68 at the ESPN Events Invitational. Here are 15 things to know about the upset, and the program that authored it.
1. The all-time record by the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference against Associated Press top-10 teams was 0-119. Until Thanksgiving, in a game played just down the road from the Magic Kingdom. You couldn’t make all that up.
2. Rick Pitino has now beaten top-10 opponents at four different schools — Providence, Kentucky, Louisville and Iona. The first three, he coached to the Final Four.
3. Iona pulled off the upset despite enduring a 4 ½-minute scoreless stretch in the second half, and going 4-for-21 in 3-pointers for the game. The Gaels never led by more than five points.
4. Alabama was 13-for-25 from the free throw line. That’s one way to help cause an historic upset.
5. The win put Iona at 6-0 going into the next round of the tournament against Belmont. They Gaels have had a lively early season, beating Harvard in overtime and coming from 16 points behind to edge Liberty 54-50.
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6. Five Iona players scored in double figures against Alabama. Including 15 important points off the bench by freshman Walter Clayton Jr. He had 12 total points in Iona’s first five games.
7. Iona’s last loss was to — Alabama. That was a 68-55 defeat in the first round of the NCAA tournament in March. Pitino’s words in the postgame press conference might be worth remembering at this moment: “I wanted no part of the so-called big time any more. I had enough of that. I wanted to a smaller school . . . like an Iona . . . and try to make it big.” Pitino turned 69 just before the season.
8. Iona had not beaten a ranked opponent in 16 years. The Gaels have only five such wins in their entire history.
9. The Gaels were a unanimous selection to repeat as MAAC champions. Which they’ll likely have to do if Pitino wants to get back to another March.
10. Iona is a college of just under 4,000 students in New Rochelle, New York, north of New York City. It was founded by the Christian Brothers, whose roots go back to Ireland, which is why they’re the Gaels. The name Iona comes from an island monastery off the Scotland coast. The school opened in 1940, meaning it’s not as old as the NCAA tournament itself.
11. The Gaels are 1-15 all-time in the NCAA tournament. Their one victory was 1980 against Holy Cross, when the coach was a young firebrand named Jim Valvano. Three weeks after that win, Valvano was hired by North Carolina State. You know the rest.
12. Iona’s all-time career scorer is Steve Burtt. No. 2 on the list is his son, Steve, who will always be 500 points behind his father.
13. The father-son motif also can be found in Iona’s coaching history. Jerry Welsh led the Gaels in the early 1990s, but had to step aside because of illness in 1994. Son Tim took over.
14. Among the better-known past Iona students are former New York Giants co-owner Timothy Mara and singer Don McLean — remember American Pie? — who earned his degree going to night school. Also pitcher Jason Motte, who saved five postseason games for the 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
15. The most famous upset in Iona history? It might have just happened.