March 7, 2006
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Guard Steve Burtt and the Iona Gaels put aside all the questions, the frustrations and past bickering to finally come together when it mattered most.
Knowing that he and his fellow seniors could go down as one of Iona's best classes to never win a championship, Burtt scored 28 points to spark an 80-61 victory over St. Peter's in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game Monday night. Burtt was named the tournament MVP in helping Iona clinch its eighth NCAA tournament berth.
"This is what I wanted more than the points, more than the accolades, more than the records," said Burtt. "My career wouldn't have been a success if I didn't get this championship. ... We were destined for this."
Burtt joined his father Steve Burtt Sr., who was named the tournament's MVP when Iona won the MAAC title in 1984.
"I thank that man so much," said Burtt, who leaped into his father's arms and gave him an extended bear hug shortly after the game ended. "I owe it all to him."
Coach Jeff Ruland smiled when discussing the two Burtts.
"This caps off that legacy," Ruland said.
Ricky Soliver shook off early foul trouble, scoring 12 for Iona, which won its conference-leading seventh MAAC title and first since 2001 - the last time the Gaels qualified for the NCAA tournament. Kiril Wachsmann added 11 points and 12 rebounds.
For St. Peter's, Keydren Clark's magnificent tournament run ended with the senior guard scoring 25 points to lead the Peacocks (17-15), who came out flat, a result of playing their fourth game in four nights.
Besides leading St. Peter's to its first MAAC championship game appearance since 1999, the senior guard scored 95 points in four games - passing both Oscar Robertson and Hersey Hawkins - and finishes with 3,058 career points to rank sixth on the NCAA scoring list.
"It's a part of life. I didn't want to end it this way," Clark said. "Tonight they were the better team."
Raul Orta added 13 points for St. Peter's, which dropped to 2-4 in MAAC championship games - it's last win coming in 1995.
The Gaels, 7-3 in the MAAC title game, took control early, sparked by a 15-0 run over a four-minute stretch. Burtt and Soliver each hit 3-point baskets and reserve forward Anthony Bruin capped the run completing a three-point play to put Iona up 25-12 with 10:13 left in the first half.
Burtt went 6-of-11 - including 3-of-5 in 3-point attempts - for 21 points in the first half, producing timely shots to avert any St. Peter's runs.
Ahead 46-33 at the break, the Gaels put the game away in the opening minutes of the second half when Burtt and Soliver hit back-to-back 3-point shots to put Iona ahead 54-39. The Peacocks never closed within 10 points down the stretch.
Clark and Burtt were the conference's two most prolific guards this season and also happened to be teammates at New York City's Rice High School. The two made sure to find each other following the game.
"I told him to go to the NCAA tournament and win a game for me," Clark said.
Burtt scored 83 points in three tournament games in helping the Gaels outscore their opponents by a combined margin of 260-199, including an 80-54 blowout of defending champion Niagara - a team the Gaels had never defeated in tournament play - in the quarterfinals.
In previous years, the players would sometimes bicker over sharing the ball.
"We went through a lot of obstacles," Soliver said. "It was win or go home, man. ... We had a good year, a couple of letdowns, but this is where you've got to bring it."
Burtt, who has 2,011 career points, became only the second Iona player to reach the 2,000-point plateau. The other was his father, who scored 2,534 in the early 1980s.
"We caught them on the fourth game in four days and I think we wore them down a little bit," Iona's coach Ruland said.
"I'm not going to use that as an excuse," Peacocks coach Bob Leckie said. "We didn't have it tonight."