SPRINGFIELD, MA - No. 4 seed Fairfield used a hot shooting second half effort to upset the No. 1 Iona College men's basketball team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship semifinal round 85-75. The Stags (19-13) used a late run to hold off the Gaels (25-7).
Iona's "Big Three" of seniors Scott Machado and Mike Glover and junior Lamont Jones scored all but 16 of Iona's 75 points in the loss. Machado posted 24 points, seven assists and four rebounds, Glover had 19 points and eight boards, while Jones recorded 16 points and three assists in the loss.
Seven ties and five lead changes marked a see-saw first half with neither team able to garner more than a six-point advantage. A Machado layup with time expiring gave the Gaels a two-point 42-40 halftime advantage.
Despite commanding a 60-54 lead after two Jones' free throws with just over half the frame to play, the Gaels managed just three field goals. They kept the lead with a 12-for-12 effort from the free throw line to start the frame. Over the next five minutes, Fairfield continued to take advantage of Iona's offensive woes and went on a 13-1 run capped by a Rakim Sanders' three-pointer that gave the Stags a nine-point advantage they would not relinquish. The Gaels got within six points with 4:20 to play.
For just the third time in 69 games under head coach Tim Cluess, the Gaels lost a game by double digits (31-3 in games decided by 10 or more points).
Sanders posted 26 points and 12 rebounds to lead Fairfield. Ryan Olander had 11 points and six boards. It was the Stags role players in guard Colin Nickerson and forward Keith Matthews - 14 points apiece - that made the difference in the contest.
The loss eliminates the Gaels from earning the league's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Iona holds on to slim hopes that it could receive an at-large bid on Selection Sunday (Mar. 11) by virtue of its solid resume and performance throughout the season. Regardless if the squad's bubble bursts next Sunday, the Gaels hold the MAAC's automatic bid into the 2012 National Invitation Tournament. NIT pairings are announced shortly after the NCAA selection show.