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Clark, Fagbenle, lead Crimson over Iona

Just the Facts, Ma'am: An offensive explosion in the second half powered Iona to a 12-point comeback- but Christine Clark went coast to coast and gave Harvard the first-round win with 00.8 seconds left, 90-89. Damika Martinez led the Gaels with 29 points, while Aleesha Powell added 21 points and six assists off the bench. Temi Fagbenle had 26 points and eight rebounds to pace Harvard; Erin McDonnell had 24 points and seven assists. For offensive outbursts, a sudden stylistic shift, so many shots, the potential misuse of endowments, a moment of inattention, gritting it out, and fond farewells, join your intrepid and exhausted blogger after the jump.

Good evening, fellow travelers! As it turns out, your intrepid blogger isn't as done with college basketball this season as we all thought. Knoxville is a little rich for my blood, but when both Seton Hall and Iona are hosting first round games, well, what's an intrepid blogger to do but go say hi to some friends in New Rochelle? I hit my connections 1,2,3 like a fast break, and made it from southwestern Queens to Grand Central in 40 minutes flat. I even bought maroon pants for the occasion. (The fact that they and others of their ilk were on clearance played into it too, I admit.)

$6. Much better, Iona.

We've got a bench priest tonight. Father, put in a couple of good words with your Boss for us? He did, by the way. Damika got a couple of friendly rolls.

The -insert-team-name-here- Way shirts are pretty boss by adidas. I kind of need all of them in my life.

Spencer Gray really does bear an eerie resemblance to Kia Wright. I keep doing a double-take when I see her.

I think Haley's family is across from the bench tonight. I'm not expecting Damika's or Aleesha's, though. Stupid weeknight game. There's maybe 50 people here. Maybe. I haz a sad. Of course, one of those 50 people is a creepy old dude who does not take me moving away as a hint that I do not wish to continue conversation with him. (All right, we got us some reinforcements. Either Haley or Christina's family has arrived.) (And Damika's family arrived too! Right after she committed a dumb turnover, of course.)

At halftime, Harvard is up 36-33 behind hot shooting from Erin McDonnell (10 points) and excellent rebounding on both ends of the floor. We have had a lot of trouble boxing out. The dude ref is not particularly competent. Down by contact is not a WCBB rule, dude, no matter how Christine Clark sells that touch on Sabrina Jeridore. We need to stop standing there watching shots. We don't have pretty enough shots to do that. Damika Martinez has 13 for the Gaels, who have seven triples at halftime. Live by the three, die by the three. It's a dangerous high, and not one that this team is made to sustain.

Why are you jacking my style, Iona? You're not Storm. You're the wrong kind of Gaels for "Thunderstruck".

It's hard to gauge whether I would have missed it for the world, knowing what I know now, feeling my heart lying shattered in my chest and my fingers freezing because the 9:03 was early and the 9:33 is late. We did things I've never seen a team do, we found seven minutes of fire and blood and rained down threes like a judgment from heaven, we held our own and held down our homecourt... and we wrecked it in the 5.3 seconds it took Christine Clark to race coast-to-coast untouched, undefended, unchallenged, uncontested, and toss in the game-winning lay-up. And something in our bleachers died, something in our hearts turned to ash, and one of the greatest seasons in Iona history ended with a late Damika Martinez heave that went under the backboard and nailed a student worker.

I'm a bit embittered by Harvard- someone from their team, possibly even the coach (they were calling her Kathy) was talking about how many players they were missing due to injury or illness, this starter and that starter, and I'm standing in the cold waiting for my cab and thinking, You won the game. Christine Clark pulled that game out of her... hat... for you, and you're making excuses. Take the win, shut up, and move on.

Kit Metoyer gave good minutes, especially in the second half- she had a couple of big threes to keep Harvard in it. Elise Gordon was one of the first players off the bench in the first half, but I don't think she played much, and I don't think she came back in in the second half. As you can see, she didn't make much of an impression. Anne Marie Healy brought a little bit of size in the middle, making the baseline uncomfortable for Iona's players and shutting down drives- she had a vicious block of (I think) Aleesha Powell that spurred a Harvard break.

Erin McDonnell, where were you hiding at the St. John's game? I think I would have remembered a big blonde dead-eye shooter. I don't remember the passing that the assists indicate, but she was superb at finding or making space. Ali Curtis didn't play a lot- I think Harvard realized the advantage they had with McDonnell and Healy in the game, and went big while Iona went small. It was an interesting combination of schemes. Jasmine Evans didn't get the rolls, but wow, did she have a fast first step, especially on defense. She cut a lot of lanes off. The better part of me is glad that Christine Clark is back for the Crimson after the injury she suffered at St. John's. Most of me did not appreciate the sheer number of calls she got in her favor (how different would this game have been if her tackle on Sabrina was called, and thence the foul on Aleesha's and-1 was her fifth?). She's a gamer and a fighter, no doubt about it, but I don't know that the best of her was on display this evening. Temi Fagbenle, on the other hand, showed off all her skills- going to the rack, the free throw line jumper, defense down low and up high, rebounding in the lane, even the occasional bit of ball-handling. I like the way she moves and the way she uses her length. About the only thing she didn't do well was hit her free throws, which I was totally okay with.

Harvard killed on the boards (no SAT/ACT jokes, please). They swarmed the glass and boxed out hard.

Aaliyah Robinson was the microwave tonight, firing off threes like they were nothing from the corner, especially in the second half. That comeback doesn't happen without Aaliyah. It also doesn't happen without Aleesha Powell. Unlike most of her teammates- most of whom are taller and bigger than she is- she drove inside fearlessly and went to the basket. That's how she got the team's only free throws, and why she almost won them the game. The funny thing is that I thought every sngle one of her shots was short, or off, or a bad idea, and then she hit them, and it was all good. Aleesha has that knack. She also picked up a pretty steal in the second half, getting into the passing lane for the break. I think it's a break we screwed up, but it was a break anyway.

Didn't see a lot of Sabrina Jeridore in the second half, but that was probably for the best, to be honest. She had a couple of big blocks, but her insistence on crossing the basket to take shots bit her in the ass a couple of times, and she looked distinctly disinterested in boxing out or playing defense. She didn't look like a player who was potentially playing in her last collegiate game. Haley D'Angelo tried to do too much on the offensive end- shooting is not her game and she forced too many shots, but she found her teammates on the wing, and I'll never, ever doubt her heart. There was a point late in the second half where she cramped up bad- you could see it cross her face, and she signaled that a sub needed to get up. Two possessions, one on each side of the floor, passed before there was a stoppage and the sub could get up. Wincing, moving with little hop-steps, Haley stayed in position on her man. She swung out of the way on offense, but her team needed her on defense, and she did her job. Cassidee Ranger was effective in the first half, but Harvard figured out that she needs space, if not time, to shoot, and stayed just close enough on her to make her life miserable. Joy Adams showed a distressing propensity to try to go to the right under the basket, and it cost her both shot attempts and baskets. She spends too much time bringing the ball down low- for heaven's sake, Joy, you're a long, lanky forward, keep the ball up! Damika Martinez was on fire, getting every roll, making all her good shots and a fair number of her bad ones. She made stupid defensive plays and bad passes, but made up for all of that with the shooting.

Someone found the switch at about the ten-minute mark. Suddenly, we were boxing out. The threes that we'd temporarily lost were falling again. We were playing defense. We were driving and dishing. For seven minutes, we were the MAAC mommas and no one could stand in our way. We let them back in, and then we fought back. We thought we had it when Aleesha finished the three-point play. We looked too far ahead.

The officiating didn't help, either. It's never fair to blame the officiating, but Joseph Vaszily made a lot of calls favorable to Harvard and few favorable to Iona, so you can imagine my eyebrows shooting up here. The 'down by contact' call was mentioned earlier. Fagbenle got away with a fair number of travels, too.

We rocked those bleachers. We did what we could for our team. I wish there was some way we could have done more. But now we're just left wondering. One guarded Fagbenle jumper. One more free throw. One more lay-up. One more hand up. One more whistle. One more play. One more would have meant one more round, one more night, one more game. One more. Instead, there's nothing more.

Thank you, Haley and Sabrina, for helping this program rise, for your years and your minutes and your time. Thank you, Sabrina, for four years of blocks and rebounds and defense. Thank you, Haley, for five years of leadership and hustle and sweet passes.

Christina, Aleesha, Aaliyah: it's going to take all of you to fill that void, to be the leaders, to find the right player at the right time, even if that player's not you. Spencer, I know you've got the defensive heart and grit.

Aurellia, Karynda: someone's got to be the big body in the middle so Joy can slide around. Your time is coming. Prove yourselves.

Damika, Joy: you're not secrets anymore. You're the stars, the inside-outside punch that powers this team. We need you to be those stars, faster, better, stronger next season.

We ain't dead yet. We'll be back. Watch out, Marist. Watch out, MAAC. There's a Gael force stirring again in the east.