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The Morning Dish – Saturday, January 16, 2016

January 16, 2016 Columns No Comments

Friday night was a light night in college basketball in terms of the number of games, as is typical in the months of January through March. But this one had a lot packed into the evening, and the story that stood out is an unfortunate one.

At first glance, Monmouth visiting Iona would seem like a mid-major dandy. Monmouth is one of the standard bearers thus far this season, scoring wins over UCLA, Notre Dame, USC and Georgetown. Iona is down a bit this season, with injuries playing a role, but the Gaels are dangerous with their ability to score, and especially dangerous at home, where they entered the evening having won 26 straight. They were also 6-0 in MAAC play to start the night, a sign that their non-conference struggles were firmly in the past and they had developed from them, which is what you hope for if you’re a coach.

The game also featured a scintillating offensive performance from one of the Gaels, as A.J. English poured in 45 points, which ironically wasn’t even a career high. He set that over a month ago. Monmouth star guard Justin Robinson had a career-high 29 points. Both teams scored – the final score was 110-102 in a game that didn’t go to overtime – so it was an entertaining game if you like offense, as many do.

After the game, it was anything but entertaining.

The stage was set before the ball even went up. There was already no love lost between head coaches Tim Cluess (Iona) and King Rice (Monmouth) going back to a spat during a game in the MAAC Tournament last season. Cluess added fuel to the fire earlier this week when talking about Monmouth’s attention-grabbing bench, reportedly saying, “Are they on the team? I didn’t know if they were on the team or wearing uniforms as cheerleaders. I’ve never seen them on the court doing anything, so to me, they’re not basketball players.”

So when the teams got in line to shake hands, an event normally full of nice sights with the competitive part of the evening done, things took a wrong turn. You could see the head coaches do a very quick obligatory handshake and keep moving, whereas typically they exchange thoughts for a second or two before moving along. It’s not clear from video of it how things got started, but before you knew it, lots of players had to be separated as a scuffle had ensued. Later, Iona junior forward Jordan Washington appeared to slap Monmouth’s Chris Brady in the face, and Brady had to be held back by a few people. Some video footage showed what appeared to be a player’s mother holding him back. Rice said that Brady’s nose was badly swollen after the game.

It was a sad scene, especially considering these are the conference leaders. Iona has been one of the standard bearers of the conference in recent years, while Monmouth has scored big wins to help raise the conference’s profile thus far this season. It won’t surprise anyone if there are suspensions from the league office, which is sure to review the matter.

These two teams will meet in West Long Branch in over a month. One can hope things don’t flare up like they did Friday night.


Side Dishes

At first, it seemed another game on the night might make bigger headlines, but it didn’t through no fault of its own. Dayton took over the game in the final eight minutes en route to a 77-70 win over George Washington. With the visiting Colonials up 61-57, Dayton scored the next nine points as the Colonials missed eight straight shots, compounding struggles at the foul line. While Dayton went 15-16 from the line in the second half, George Washington went 5-15 on free throws on the night, including three straight misses by Patricio Garino in the final seconds after he was fouled shooting a three-pointer.

In other game action of note, Evansville scored a big road win by knocking off Illinois State 66-55, with the big stat line being the Purple Aces’ Egidijus Mockevicius posting 13 points and 20 rebounds to complement D.J. Balentine’s 25 points, and Maine knocking off America East leader Albany 81-79 in Orono.

For the second time in a week, a cancer death hit the world of basketball. This time, it was Jacksonville legend and current head coach of Arlington Country Day Rex Morgan, who battled throat cancer valiantly before succumbing on Friday morning. Morgan, who led Jacksonville to the national title game in 1970, where they lost to UCLA, was diagnosed with the cancer in 2010.

Speaking of Andrew Smith’s passing, a former Butler teammate of his, Emerson Kampen, found out he will be the bone marrow donor for a 59-year-old male battling the same cancer Smith had. In an interview with The Star Press of Muncie, Indiana, he said doing this was easy given Smith’s impact on him.

Keith Frazier had already left the team at SMU, but on Friday it became official that he is transferring. Frazier was once thought to have been a big recruiting pickup for the Mustangs, and while he was a key contributor last season before being academically ineligible for the second semester, his time there will be most remembered for being a prominent figure in the NCAA investigation that led to sanctions against the school that included a postseason ban this year. The junior guard has no more than a year of eligibility left, all depending on whether he sits out next year entirely or opts to play as second semester transfer.

Auburn will be without guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen for the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury suffered in practice a while back. The junior guard’s career could be in jeopardy since this is the second time he has had such an injury in less than a year. He played in five games before getting hurt and had seen both his minutes and production decrease steadily from his freshman season, when he played over 29 minutes per game and averaged 9.5 points and 2.9 assists per game.


Tonight’s Menu

Another busy Saturday is on tap.

  • The ACC features NC State at North Carolina, Notre Dame at Duke and suddenly hot Clemson hosting Miami, all in the afternoon.
  • Cincinnati visits Temple in the main game on the American Athletic Conference’s slate.
  • Atlantic 10 play features arch rivals VCU and Richmond battling on the Spiders’ home floor.
  • The Big 12 has a nice slate of games highlighted by Baylor visiting Texas Tech, then West Virginia at Oklahoma, Iowa State at Kansas State, then Oklahoma State at Texas.
  • In Big East play, Georgetown hosts Villanova in a game the Hoyas could use for a quality win, while Xavier visits Marquette and Seton Hall travels to Providence.
  • The Big Ten slate is highlighted by an early matchup with Ohio State visiting Maryland.
  • A big game in the Mountain West is on tap with Boise State hosting San Diego State. The Broncos haven’t lost at home all season.
  • The Pac-12 slate is highlighted by Washington at Arizona State.
  • Highlighting the SEC schedule is Georgia hosting Texas A&M, as well as Alabama at Vanderbilt and Florida traveling to Ole Miss.
  • The CAA has two nice matchups with William & Mary visiting UNCW and Hofstra hosting James Madison.

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