NEW ROCHELLE, NY - The Iona College men's basketball held on to a 65-58 win over Denver in its 2012-13 season opener at the Hynes Center. After building a 23-point lead at halftime, the Gaels withstood a strong second half by the Pioneers in the eight-point win.
After taking nearly three minutes to find the first field goal in the contest, Iona quickly opened a double-digit lead when a three-pointer by Sean Armand at 11:29 to open up a 16-6 lead. The advantage expanded to 20 points with less than three minutes to play on two free throws by junior Tre Bowman. The Gaels defense was the story of the frame as they limited Denver to just six field goals and a 31.6% field goal percentage including 0-for-8 from beyond the arc. Iona shot 60.9% in the first half and was 5-of-6 on three-point attempts and took a 40-17 advantage into the break.
Denver used two separate 7-0 runs in the first eight minutes of the second half to cut their deficit to a manageable 12 points with 12:07 left. Two free throws by junior Chris Udofia on Armand's fourth foul of the contest made the score 50-38. The visitors took advantage of Armand's absence and continued their run and trailed 54-46 with 8:29 remaining. Iona regained a 10 point lead on a conventional three-point play by senior Lamont Jones with 5:37 remaining. Back-to-back Pioneer field goals sandwiching an Iona miss got Denver to its closest margin since the first four minutes of the game. Leading by six points with 4:44 left, Jones hit a three pointer and after a Denver turnover, converted a layup to put the Gaels ahead 64-53 with 3:31 remaining. Denver scored the next five points to get back within six. A missed three-pointer by senior Chase Hallam was corralled by Taaj Ridley with 15 seconds on the clock. The senior hit 1-of-2 free throws to seal the win for the Gaels.
Jones led the way with 20 points - 10 in each half - and seven assists for the Gaels. He was 7-of-15 from the field and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc in his first game as Iona's primary point guard since coming to New Rochelle last season. Armand scored 19 points in 24 minutes as he was forced to the bench in both halves due to foul trouble. He was 8-of-11 from the field with two trifectas. Bowman had 11 points in his Iona debut with the help of a 6-for-6 effort from the free throw line. Sophomore Tavon Sledge, a 5-9 point guard, led Iona with seven points and two blocks. He scored six points and dished out five assists in 28 minutes off the bench. Ridley added seven points and five boards.
Udofia led four Denver players in double-digit scoring with 20 points. He also led the Pioneers with six rebounds and five assists. Hallam posted 13 points while sophomore Brett Olson had 12 and junior Royce O'Neale had 10 in the loss.
The Gaels are back in action next Friday night at the 2012 Ezybonds Paradise Jam in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. Iona takes on Quinnipiac in the first of three games in the US Virgin Islands at 9:00 pm ET.