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DAYTON — If David provided Goliath stone-tablet motivational material, it may have looked something like this:
"Confident Iona: We will beat Ohio State in NCAA tournament," blared a headline in the New York Post this week.
The 15th-seeded Gaels are talking a big game in advance of tonight’s tourney opener against OSU at UD Arena, though on Thursday they backed off the guarantee. In fact, players and coach Tim Cluess said there was never a guarantee at all.
"It wasn't misinterpreted," Cluess said. "They made up the headline. Our players never said anything like that."
The tabloid stir began when Iona’s players said they believed the Gaels could beat OSU. Sean Armand told the Post, "To me, it’s not an upset," while star point guard Momo Jones said, "I feel like we’re supposed to win." Yet Cluess insisted his players were only expressing confidence in their team, the same way any March dreamer would in a similar situation.
Jones expressed disgust with a headline he felt needlessly attempted to jab the bear.
"No paper is going to make me change how I feel," he said. "I’m a basketball player and I have a ton of confidence. I feel like we can win the game. I didn't say we will win. I said I expect us to win."
Iona at least has reason to believe it could throw off OSU. The breakneck Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions wield the nation’s second-highest scoring offense (80.7 points per game) and the third-leading scorer in Jones, an Arizona transfer averaging 23 points. The Gaels (20-13) enter their second straight NCAA tournament on a five-game winning streak.
"What I told them is that somebody here — and more than one team in this tournament — are going to pull upsets and going to be the team that everyone is speaking about a week, two weeks down the road. Why not us? Why not all of us dream a little bit right now?"
HANDS OFF: Earlier this week, OSU football coach Urban Meyer cracked he planned to make a run at Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft.
Thad Matta’s response?
"Don’t even try it," he said with a laugh. "Aaron has that football mentality at times, and it definitely gives him a different view. I’ve always said guys that I recruited that played high school football, they understand things a little bit better than most."
Craft was an all-state quarterback at Liberty-Benton.
DOUBLE DRIBBLES: Craft on President Obama picking Ohio State in the Final Four for a third straight year: "He’s a great man. He’s got great taste. What can I say?" ... Matta isn’t sweating the Buckeyes’ recent history in Dayton, where they have lost two of their past three tournament games. They lost to No. 7-seeded Georgetown in the second round in 2006 and fell to No. 8 seed Siena in the first-round in 2009.
"Different teams, different opponents, we’ll see what happens," Matta said. ... The Buckeyes are 9-7 against tournament teams this season. ... Ohio State is making its fifth straight and 25th overall NCAA tournament appearance.