The Iona College men’s basketball team found out who its dance partner will be.
Make that its Big Dance partner.
The Gaels drew a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a date with top-seeded North Carolina.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions will face the Tar Heels on 9:20 p.m. Friday, March 22 in Columbus, Ohio in the first round of the Midwest Region. The winner will advance to the second round, where they will square off against the winner of the Utah State-Washington matchup on Sunday.
The Gaels earned their spot in the tournament after topping all comers and claiming their record fourth straight MAAC championship and its league record 12th title. Their appearance at the NCAA Championship will be their sixth in nine seasons under head coach Tim Cluess.
“This is a great opportunity to play against one of the best teams in the country. One of my former players played for (North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams) many years ago and they’ve been tremendous, and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” the coach said. “March is a great month, because you only have to be better for two hours.
“Everything has to break your way, and we’re going to go out and play the best, and hardest basketball that Iona can play. And whatever the results, you have to believe it’s possible, because it’s March.”
To get their spot in the NCAA Tournament, the top-seeded Gaels downed the sixth-seeded Hawks 81-60, led by senior Rickey McGill. Despite battling foul trouble late in the game, McGill finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists to claim the MAAC Championship’s MVP crown. He becomes the only student-athlete in MAAC history to claim four conference championship rings.
With their seeding settled, Cluess said that it’s time to start getting ready for the challenge of attempting to become the second 16 seed to topple a number 1 seed.
“They’re a loaded team that is a great basketball team and coached extremely well,” he said. “Size-wise, they’re going to be a challenge. Speed-wise, it’s going to be a challenge. A lot of the things they do are at the highest of high levels, but that’s what makes basketball fun. You have to play the very best teams.
“I just want them to work their tails off and give it everything they have. It’s the same message as last year. We’re going to walk off the court with our heads held high. And who knows, it’s March.”
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