Santa Clara ends season with win in tourney final

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- When you play in the West Coast Conference, you're going to walk into some imposing gyms from time to time. But playing the likes of Gonzaga and St. Mary's probably didn't prepare Santa Clara for a practice this week at Madison Square Garden of all places.

Running through a workout on the same floor where Carmelo Anthony plays for the Knicks, and where Kemba Walker led UConn to a Big East championship, however, did prove to have dividends.

Just ask Iona.

Two days after that Garden practice, Ben Dowdell had 14 points, eight rebounds and two assists as Santa Clara handled the Gaels 76-69 to win the third annual tournament on Wednesday night.

Kevin Foster had 16 points and the Broncos (24-14) placed five in double figures en route to the easy road victory over Iona (25-12). Santa Clara led 38-28 at the half, and outrebounded Iona 39-32.

The loss ruined a thorough performance from Iona's Michael Glover, who finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and a steal.

The CIT this year featured a 24-team field from 15 different conferences, including the West Coast, the MAAC, Conference USA, the Missouri Valley and the Mountain West. The majority of the teams -- understanding they probably weren't going to get invited elsewhere -- signed onto the tournament prior to Selection Sunday. Old Dominion and Missouri State won the first two installments of this tournament.

Santa Clara defeated Northern Arizona, Air Force, San Francisco, SMU and Iona to win the title, the last three being on the road. The Broncos closed the season by winning eight of their last nine games, and while they'd probably give back this title for a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, they won't forget this run anytime soon.

Neither will their fellow students. In fact, Santa Clara will host a welcome back salute to the team on Thursday afternoon on campus. This is Santa Clara's first-ever postseason, non-conference tournament championship.

Iona finished the season on a 12-2 stretch, but the two losses -- both in championship settings -- were costly and may overshadow an otherwise strong season. Iona lost to St. Peter's 62-57 in the MAAC title game, and then to the Broncos. Iona defeated Valparaiso, Buffalo and East Tennessee State to advance to the CIT final.