Dick Harmon: BYU basketball comeback over Iona lingers as Marquette game awaits
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LOUISVILLE — You set records and people won't let it rest.
Despite today's showdown between No. 3 seed Marquette and No. 14 BYU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Cougars' remarkable comeback win over Iona College Tuesday in Dayton lingered in the air on media day Wednesday in Louisville.
The breakdown of the 78-72 win over the Gaels followed BYU to the team hotel in Dayton after the game, and then 152 miles on the bus to Louisville as friends and family called, texted and emailed comments. When the team got to the KFC Yum! Center, the win remained front and center, just like ESPN SportsCenter the night before.
The Cougar comeback — a win after a 25-point deficit — ranks among the best in school history and established a new NCAA Tournament record. If you count the BYU six-point margin of victory, it was a stunning 31-point reversal.
Previously, the largest NCAA tournament deficit overcome was 22 points when Duke found a way to beat Maryland 95-84 in the 2001 national semifinals.
As BYU coach Dave Rose left the KFC Yum! Arena after practice on Wednesday, a random fan yelled his name to shake his hand on the win. "I got them down 25 and the players took a turn getting it back," Rose told the elderly man.
"I've never seen a comeback like that," said West Coast Athletic Conference publicist Jeff Tourial, on hand for this regional.
"It was a lot of fun, something I'll always remember, but it's a quick turnaround and we have to put it to rest. We have another game to play now," said senior Noah Hartsock.
"It was a crazy game, to come back from that much," said freshman Matt Carlino. "I've never seen anything like it, ever."
"That was the biggest comeback I've been a part of," said senior Charles Abouo. "It was amazing. To see players who hadn't played that many minutes come in and step up was unbelievable."
The players he spoke of were freshman Damarcus Harrison and junior transfer Craig Cusick, who replaced Abouo and Carlino for much of the comeback.
"It is like a blur, it's hard to remember everything," said Harrison, who scored a career-high 12 points. "The heart was racing, everyone was together."
For the Cougars, Tuesday's comeback was the biggest since Utah came to the Marriott Center with brothers Britton and Jeff Johnsen, Feb. 23, 2002 and raced to a 21 point lead. The Cougars, led by Travis Hansen, Matt Montague, Eric Nielsen and Mark Bigelow outscored the Utes 37-18 in the second half and won 62-61.
Down 55-40 at the half, Hartsock said Rose didn't make any remarkable halftime speech. He just made it technical, about how 15 points was nothing and turnovers were killing the Cougars. "He told us we could come back if we played our best."
Abouo noticed Iona looked different when they walked out of the locker room to start the second half. "Just the way they walked, they looked tired and were not the same."
At halftime, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe followed the team and Rose into the locker room and thought, what is coach Rose going to say to his team?
"What is he going to say, hold them to 150? He basically plotted exactly what they needed to do in the second half to win and they did exactly what he asked. Why they didn't do it in the first half, I'll never know.
"Afterwards I chatted with Rose and he told me, 'You have to go in and tell them what you think will happen even though you know there's a pretty good chance it won't happen. You can't go in there and tell them other things."
Iona's star guard Scott Machado had nine assists in the first half and just one in the Gael's fateful second half. The national leader in assists, Machado said when BYU went to a zone defense and began playing aggressive, the blistering shooting Iona rode in the first half abandoned them.
"When we're not making shots, it's kind of hard to be able to press like we were in the first half. It's hard for us to get stops at that end because we're so small. I think the number was 34, [Hartsock], the one that was hitting all the shots."
Hartsock scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the second half.
"He was just shooting right over us," said Machado. "And his length was just — I mean, it was hard to guard. And when we're not making shots, we can't press him. We couldn't do what we did in the first half. So it messed up our whole game plan."
Iona made 5 of 10 from distance in the first half when they scored 55 points. But the Cougar defense rattled the Gaels after that and they made just 1 of 15 the rest of the game.
There couldn't have been two more opposite halves of ball like Iona had.
"I feel they were pressuring more in the zone," said Machado. "It wasn't just like a steady zone, just sitting in the zone. They were pressuring the ball. They were making it hard to get in the lane and make passes into the interior."
Machado, a future NBA draft pick and one of 15 finalist for the John Wooden Award, took responsibility for shying away from BYU's defense.
"I take full blame for driving in the lane and not being able to get the ball to my man, to my teammates, and, I mean, I had five turnovers and one assist in the second half. And I feel like I could have done a better job at that."
Hartsock said BYU's experience with the zone all year gave the Cougars confidence in defending Iona in the final 20.
"We were just trying to be active. We started getting our hands on loose balls and tipping it. We just started getting that momentum and confidence. That's what helped us make those runs. And we were just being really aggressive as a team. And when we get in that mode, we become a team that's hard to stop."
The Cougars play Marquette on Thursday and Golden Eagle coach Buzz Williams told the media on Wednesday BYU's win over Iona was one of a kind.
"I've never seen anything like it in all my life."
Williams said he was at his hotel and the game was wired to his room and he was eating chips and sipping a soda. "Man, I was a basket case watching that game."
Williams had a lot of company who had the same experience.
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