Iona head coach Tim Cluess shouts instructions to his players...

Iona head coach Tim Cluess shouts instructions to his players during the first half of the championship NCAA college basketball game against Monmouth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament on March 11, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

As a change of pace during his pre-tournament news conference in Columbus, Iona coach Tim Cluess was asked about something that had absolutely nothing to do with his preparation for the daunting ordeal of playing No. 1 seed North Carolina, which went on to beat his Gaels, 88-73, Friday night. The question to Cluess involved what he thought about the season that his alma mater had.

He took a long pause and replied, “Which one?”

Cluess went to St. John’s but graduated from Hofstra and, with a grin, acknowledged that the question was about the latter, the CAA regular-season champion that played a solid game in the NIT.

“I thought they did a terrific job. I thought Joe [Mihalich, the coach] did a terrific job,” he said. “I thought they were going to beat North Carolina State the other night. I was rooting for them. They were close to getting in the [NCAA] Tournament. I wish they’d won the conference championship game. But they’ve really turned the corner with that program.”

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was just as happy for the Pride. He was a freshman at LaSalle High School in Philadelphia when Mihalich was a senior, and later teamed with Joe’s brother, Matt, to form the team’s starting backcourt. Their mothers were close friends.

“Joe and I are good buddies,” said McCaffery, whose team will play Tennessee Sunday for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. “He has done an unbelievable job. He loves it there. He was at Niagara when I was at Siena so we coached against each other a lot. I’m always pulling for him.”

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