Sunday, July 22, 2018

Gael Nation loses 15-point lead, eliminated from TBT

BROOKLYN -- Every so often in life, history repeats itself.

So it was Sunday afternoon, as Gael Nation -- the team of Iona basketball alumni banded together for a shot at the $2-million grand prize that comes with winning The Basketball Tournament -- saw their second bid come crashing down in a similar vein to their maiden voyage last year.

In the 2017 regionals in Philadelphia, Gael Nation used their high-powered offense to dethrone City of Gods before narrowly falling short in overtime against Boeheim's Army, who; coincidentally, followed them on the court Sunday at the conclusion of their game. This time around, Gael Nation experienced more of the same, powering past Sideline Cancer on Saturday with an explosive second half before a 75-73 loss to Armored Athlete in the second round of action at the Steinberg Wellness Center.

In many ways, the loss to Armored Athlete harkens back to the ill-fated 2012 NCAA Tournament team, on which Sean Armand and Scott Machado played as a sophomore and senior, respectively. Six years ago, the Gaels stunned the college basketball world by receiving an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, where they proceeded to take a 25-point lead on Brigham Young in the first half before the Cougars came back to defeat them with a second half of zone defense and timely three-point shots.

On Sunday, Gael Nation displayed a strong defensive mindset in the opening of four quarters, allowing just nine points to Armored Athlete and conceding a mere four field goals of the 16 that were attempted. The Iona alums followed their opening salvo with one more in line with their trademark, knocking down six of eight three-point shots in the second quarter to take a 40-25 lead into the locker room. It would only spiral out of control from there, however.

Armored Athlete turned the tables after the intermission, missing only three of their 18 third-quarter attempts en route to a 34-16 margin on the scoreboard to forge a 59-56 lead going into the final period. Gael Nation remained close, though, only trailing by six points when the Elam ending was enacted at a juncture where Armored Athlete led 68-62, creating a target score of 75.

Armand, who once again led Gael Nation with a second 20-point game in as many days, struck first to narrow the gap to eleven points for the win, but was then whistled for a technical foul and personal foul on the ensuing two possessions. He would later redeem himself on a three-pointer after Armored Athlete split the two foul shots that stemmed from Armand's fifth foul.

Armand would become even more critical to Gael Nation's success, as two missed layups sandwiched a pair of foul shots that served as the Brooklyn native's 18th and 19th points of the afternoon. A three-pointer by former Indiana guard Jordan Hulls pushed Armored Athlete to the precipice of a win, needing one more point for victory, but A.J. English kept Gael Nation alive with a triple of his own from just off the top of the key, making the score 74-72.

Needing a stop and three points to pull out a win, Gael Nation got the former when English secured the rebound of a missed three by Marcus Thornton, retaining possession on a held ball when the arrow was ruled to be in Gael Nation's favor. However, Armored Athlete employed the strategy game off the inbounds, electing to foul Armand to trigger the double bonus and avoid a game-winning three. Armand missed the first of two foul shots, but made the second to trim the deficit on the scoreboard to one point.

Gael Nation had one more chance to survive and advance, gaining possession after Armored Athlete turned the ball over out of bounds. However, Steve Burtt, Jr.'s three-point attempt was too strong and bounced off the rim. Armand would foul out shortly thereafter, committing his sixth and final infraction against Julian Gamble, who promptly sank the first shot at the stripe for the victory.

With the win, Armored Athlete advances to the round of 16 in Atlanta next weekend, where it will face either Boeheim's Army -- a team of Syracuse alumni -- or the New York-based Team Fancy.

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