For the second time in three days, the NCAA Tournament bubble has added an extremely intriguing team from a mid-major conference.
Second-seeded Iona hit 11 three-pointers and forced 17 Monmouth turnovers to upset the MAAC regular season champions, 79-76, in the conference tournament title game Monday night in Albany, N.Y.
Monmouth, which won non-conference games over Notre Dame, USC, UCLA, Georgetown and Rutgers, still has a strong chance at earning an at-large bid thanks to a resume that includes a top 50 RPI. But it will be far from a carefree Selection Sunday for the Hawks, who haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2006.
Monday's game marked the fourth straight season that Iona had appeared in the MAAC championship. The Gaels, who have won a league-record nine MAAC Tournament titles since 1982, were defeated by Manhattan in the title game in each of the past two seasons. They now head to the big dance, an event where they have won just one game in 11 tries.
The meeting was the rubber match of what had already been a thoroughly entertaining and discussed series between the two rivals.
The pair played one of the most talked about games of the 2015-16 season on Jan. 15. Monmouth snapped Iona's 26-game home winning streak with a thoroughly entertaining 110-102 win, but the real action started after the game when a scuffle broke out in the handshake line. It ended with the slap heard 'round the MAAC.
Monmouth coach King Rice then walked off the court blowing kisses to the home crowd.
Monmouth coach King Rice with some parting thoughts for the Iona crowd. pic.twitter.com/X1U6Gmtcjo— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 16, 2016
A lot of the hostility that took place that night was blamed on the pregame comments from Iona coach Tim Cluess after he was asked about the oft-discussed antics of the Monmouth bench.
"Are they on the team?" Cluess asked rhetorically. "I didn't know if they were on the team or wearing uniforms as cheerleaders. I've never seen them on the court doing anything, so to me, they're not basketball players."
Iona forward Jordan Washington was suspended for two games for the slap, but both teams downplayed the incident before the second meeting. The road team was again the victor in said meeting, with the Gaels pulling off a dominant 83-67 upset, which had been Monmouth's most recent loss.
Washington, as fate had it, may have been the best player on the court Monday night. The junior scored 15 points to go along with a game-high 13 rebounds and three assists. Senior star A.J. English, who entered the night ranked No. 10 nationally in scoring, led the Gaels in scoring with 19 points.
Iona's win spoiled an otherwise heroic effort from Monmouth reserve Je'lon Hornbeak, who connected on all seven of his field goal attempts and poured in a game-high 20 points. MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson chipped in 14 points, but was held to just 2-of-9 shooting from the field.