Throughout tonight's Iona-Holy Cross basketball game, Iona's vocal fans chanted, "We want the Hoyas, we want the Hoyas." The Gael players almost looked ahead too quickly to Sunday's opponent in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Iona, winner by 84-78, led by 12 points with 4:48 to play when the Gaels' bench started slapping hands and hugging in celebration. The meaning was obvious: Bring on Georgetown, 95-84 winner over Iona in early January.
But the celebration triggered a Holy Cross rally. The Crusaders drew within three points, with 41 seconds to play, before Iona won the game at the foul line.
In the nightcap at the Providence Civic Center, Villanova broke open a close game midway in the second half and stormed past Marquette, 77-59, behind 24 points by Rory Sparrow and 21 by John Pinone. Villanova moves into Sunday's second round against Syracuse.
Starting times for Sunday's games will not be announced until Saturday morning but it appears that the Georgetown-Iona matchup will be at 1 p.m. and televised in the Washington area by WRC-TV-4.
The Gaels did not play well tonight -- "If we play the way we did tonight," Coach Jim Valvano said, "it's going to be an awful long Sunday" -- and Valvano revealed that center Jeff Ruland (16 points, nine rebounds tonight) is playing with both hands injured, one with a chipped bone.
Iona won this game with its guards, getting 23 points from Glenn Vickers and 18 from Kevin Hamilton, and a gamble by Valvano that paid off. Iona has inexperienced reserves, so, when forward Alex Middleton collected his fourth foul in the second minute of the second half, Valvano removed the senior briefly, then reinserted him.
It was 42-39 then. The Gaels took control, opening a nine-point lead in less than two minutes.
"We had to leave him in," Valvano said. "I thought we were in trouble there. We're not a club that can come from behind well. He's a smart player; I didn't think he'd get his fifth."
He didn't and, despite a rally led by guard Ronnie Perry, who finished with 24 points, Holy Cross could not stop Iona from winning its 17th straight game and improving its best-ever season mark to 29-4.
The Villanova-Marquette game was a monotonous, cat-and-mouse contest. The momentum changed drastically after Marquette, nursing a 37-34 lead early in the second half, missed an open shot. Sam Worther, who scored 14 points tonight, made the costly error.
Marquette Coach Hank Raymond said later that if the Warriors had scored then and held Villanova, his team would have made Villanova come out and play man-to-man defense and abandon its excellent matchup zone. The zone ultimately made the difference.