DAYTON — Iona’s Curtis Dennis finished his college basketball career Friday right where he hoped.
Though the Gaels breached the sport’s biggest stage for the second straight year, Dennis called his one season at the New Rochelle, N.Y., college a "struggle." The Rockets’ second-leading scorer last year averaged only 3.9 points this year and was held scoreless in four minutes of Ohio State’s 95-70 rout of Iona in Friday night’s NCAA tournament opener.
"You just learn over time that you can’t be down on yourself just because you’re struggling," said Dennis, a Bronx native who is on course to graduate in May with a criminal justice degree and hopes to play basketball overseas next season. "You’ve got to keep a positive head. Last year, I had a great season. This year, I’ve struggled."
Still, Dennis — who announced on Twitter, "I’m back Ohio," upon the Gaels’ arrival in Dayton on Wednesday — said he has no regrets leaving Toledo for his third school in three years.
"When you live in regrets, you won’t be successful," he said. "It’s an experience I have to learn from. This is just what was meant to [happen]. I’m still happy we made the tournament."
Dennis, an honorable mention All-Mid-American Conference selection last year, was free to transfer without restriction after the NCAA banned UT from the postseason.
SHUT DOWN: A day after Momo Jones said he thought Iona could handle the heat from Ohio State’s defense, Aaron Craft proved otherwise Friday night.
The Liberty-Benton graduate held the nation’s third-leading scorer (23 points per game) to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting — including 1-of-8 from beyond the arc. It was Jones’ second-lowest output of the season.
"I mean, give credit where credit is due," said the senior Jones, a transfer from Arizona. "I think he played good defense. I think I took some bad shots. Things just didn’t fall tonight. Can’t knock the guy. He played some good defense."
Said Iona coach Tim Cluess: "He has a passion to stop people, which players today don’t have. I told him after the game that he’s one heck of a player. We’d love to have a guy like that on our team."
GLORY DAYS: If Matta would prefer to forget Ohio State’s recent history in Dayton, the old arena here still remains near his heart.
The same place where the Buckeyes failed to escape the opening weekend in 2006 and 2009 hosted what Matta called the "one shining moment" of his unpresuming college career.
Not that Matta remembers, but he said it was 1989 and his Butler Bulldogs trailed Dayton by seven points with 1:56 remaining.
"Coach [Joe Sexson] calls a timeout and says we need some 3s," he said. "So I come down and hit a 3. We're down four, stop them, and I hit another 3. We're down one. We get a turnover with 20 seconds to go."
Sexson called another timeout, Matta recalled, and drew up a final play that featured four options — one for every man but the reserve guard who had shot Butler to the brink of victory.
"I’m thinking, ‘Wait a second, I got us in this game,’" Matta said. "So I came down the court at the horn and threw it in. I scored eight points the entire game. That's what type of player I was.
"That was the highlight of my playing at Butler."