While there might only be one local on the Gaels (Tavon Sledge/Spring Valley), Iona is still the local team. Earlier today the school held a pep rally prior to the men’s basketball team flying out to Dayton, Ohio to face second-seeded Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. I was on hand. Here is my story.
NEW ROCHELLE — Before Lamont “MoMo” Jones addressed the group gathered in front of the Hynes Athletic Center, the Iona senior paused, panning the crowd as he took in the moment.
After thanking the fans for coming to the Gaels’ sendoff pep rally as they embarked on a trip to Dayton, Ohio, for the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Jones cut right to the chase.
“We going to go out here this weekend and give it our all,” Jones told the crowd. “Hopefully we come back with a victory and make history.”
Making history is exactly what the Gaels will have to do if they hope to advance in the tournament, which begins with Friday’s 7:15 p.m. game with No. 2 Ohio State. Iona has never won a game in the NCAA tournament. Their 1980 win against Holy Cross was later vacated.
A win would put the Gaels in rare company. Only five 15 seeds have advanced past the first round.
That hasn’t deterred Jones, though.
“We believe in each other and we believe we can win,” said Jones prior to getting on a bus headed for the airport. “This is not a cheerful chance for us to go there and look at the nice arena and all the people there in the crowd. We’re going there to win a game.”
Junior guard and fellow captain Sean Armand echoed a similar mindset as the Gaels headed to their second straight tournament.
“It’s all business; it been business all season,” Armand said. “We’re here to play games and compete in this tournament. A lot of mid-majors go to the tournament and just are happy to be in there. We’re trying to compete and win.”
Jones has the most tournament experience of all the Gaels. In addition to last season’s appearance, a first-round 78-72 loss to Brigham Young, Jones was a member of the 2011 Arizona team that made it to the Elite Eight.
Jones had three pieces of advice for the Gaels’ newcomers with no experience playing in the Big Dance.
“Stay poised, confident and believe,” Jones said. “It’s all about belief and it’s all about heart. If you got heart, belief and confidence, you can do anything in this world.”
While Tavon Sledge, a Spring Valley native, made it to the second round last season with Iowa State, this time around is different. The sophomore guard has started in all of Iona’s 25 games.
“To actually be a player and play is a big accomplishment for me,” Sledge said. “A lot of kids growing up always dream of playing in the tournament, so I’m happy to say I did it.”
Below is a video of the event compiled by Seth Harrison of the event: