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As part of a series, NCAA.org reporter Greg Johnson followed the Iona Gaels through their experience in the NCAA First Four.
By Greg Johnson
Dayton, Ohio – After the final seconds ticked off on an improbable defeat that ended his college basketball career, Iona senior point guard Scott Machado remained a leader.
Machado and his teammates saw a one-time 25-point lead evaporate into a 78-72 loss to Brigham Young in a First Four game in front of 8,510 fans at Dayton Arena Tuesday night. The 14th-seeded Cougars, who staged the biggest comeback in the history of the Division I men’s tournament, advance to the second round to play third-seeded Marquette on Thursday in Louisville.
Maybe it was something in the air. After all, the first game of the evening also saw a remarkable change in momentum with Mississippi Valley State losing a 16-point lead in the final five minutes and falling, 59-58, to Western Kentucky as special guests President Barrack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron looked on.
When the final buzzer sounded in the Iona game, Machado got in line to shake the hands of the Brigham Young players and coaches and then walked toward the corner of the court that leads to the locker room.
Suddenly, Machado grabbed as many teammates as he could and led them back on the floor to thank the Gaels’ fans for their support. It was the epitome of what leaders do in adverse times.
“We haven’t been to the NCAA tournament in a while, and a lot of people came out here,” said Machado of his team making its first appearance in the tournament since 2006. “Even though we lost, those people traveled and paid money to come watch us play. It wasn’t a free route for them. They cheered for us whether we were up or down. We are supposed to go thank them whether we win or lose.”
Machado, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., was impressive in the postgame news conference, answering questions about the bitter defeat. Later in the locker room as he packed up his shoes and other belongings, the emotions of the moment started to surface as he reflected on the end of his college career.
Besides his stellar play on the court that includes leading the nation in assists (9.9) this season, he truly feels he left a mark at Iona.
“I did everything in my power to bring this program to a different level,” said Machado, who finished with 15 points and 10 assists. “It was a wonderful experience and something that I can say I did once. I know we lost, but these types of things happen in life.”
In the first 16 minutes of the game, Iona looked liked the team that entered the game as the highest-scoring squad in the country (83.2 points per game). The Gaels, who finished 25-8, continually ran past the taller Cougars.
Iona led, 49-24, with 6:12 remaining in the first half, and at the 4:35 mark, the Gaels had already put 55 points on the scoreboard. But in a sign of things to come, the Gaels didn’t score the rest of the half. However, they still led 55-40 at the intermission.
Machado led the way with seven points and nine assists, and the Gaels shot 58.5 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes.
The second half saw Brigham Young, 26-8, outscore Iona, 38-17. The Gaels made only seven of their 29 field-goal attempts in the second half, including a frigid 1-of-15 from three-point range.
The Cougars were able to change the momentum by playing a more aggressive zone defense that befuddled Iona.
There were plenty of missed opportunities by everyone wearing Iona uniforms, but again Machado showed his leadership when discussing what went wrong.
“I take full blame for driving into the lane and not being able to get the ball to my teammates,” said Machado, who is thought to be one of the top point guard prospects in the 2012 NBA Draft. “I had five turnovers and one assist in the second half. I feel like I could have done a better job at that.”
Iona was assigned to the same hotel that Virginia Commonwealth had last year. It’s where VCU started its run from the First Four to the Final Four. The Gaels hoped to make a similar magical run.
The day before the game, Iona coach Tim Cluess said his coaching philosophy is to be straightforward with his players.
“I have found that players are receptive when you treat them the right way,” Cluess said. “I have always been demanding of my players and want them to be accountable for the things they do.”
It’s a lesson that Machado obviously has taken to heart.