When the Iona Gaels squandered a 24-point lead in Dayton against BYU in the first round of the NCAA tournament, it meant an end of one season, but it meant much more to Sean Armand.
In two seasons Armand went from averaging fewer than 10 points per game to the easy answer for head coach Tim Cluess when he’s asked who the is the leader. Armand has already helped lead the Gaels to one NCAA tournament and wants one last run.
He has started all but one game over the last two seasons and has proven to be one of the rocks of a roster that has seen turnover from season to season.
Armand said the biggest difference between this season’s group and last season’s is how the personalities has meshed over 17 games.
“You just have to learn how to talk to different people,” Armand said. “Some guys you really have to get into got to yell at and push and other guys you have to lean to and show them things and just approach in different ways.”
“This group, this year, we really get after it. We get into guys, that motivation and we’re coming along slowly.”
After watching and learning under upperclassmen Mike Glover and Scott Machado for two seasons, last season was Armand’s turn to lead the Gaels. The senior said that he learned from Machado’s lead, who averaged 9.9 assists and 13.6 points per game who led the Gaels to their first at-large NCAA tournament bid in 2012.
“Coming here, you think you work hard as a freshman, but you see older guys and then you see a guy like Scott,” Armand said noting that he admired Machado’s work ethic. “He’s hard working every single night, day in and day out. He always had words of advice for me, and others, and I found out I’m the same kind of guy.”
When the team got back from the University of Dayton Arena, Armand said he knew it was his turn to lead, a role he was comfortable with in high school when he led Jacqueline Onassis high school to the PSAL class B semifinals as a senior. When he got to Iona he learned under Machado’s leadership, who inspired Armand by working hard enough to eventually earn a roster spot on the Houston Rockets.
“I learned a lot of that from Scott,” Armand said. “Basically lead them by example and once you do the things that you tell everybody else, they just buy in.”
After draining a career-high 112 three-pointers as a junior, Armand has had to adjust his game as teams continue to hone in on him on the scouting report.
“Sean’s played really really well for us,” Cluess said. “He’s become much more versatile in his game, especially on the offensive end.”
As a player who is given so much attention, the senior has been able to watch his team grow up before his eyes. When Armand scored a season-low two points against Fairfield, three of his teammates scored more than 20 points and when he scored 11 points Sunday against Siena, Isaiah Williams and Tre Bowman combined for 45 points as the Gaels routed the Saints 88-74. Not only is Armand leading by shooting, he trails only sophomore A.J. English in three-pointers made, but he has learned to play the role of a guard who occupies the paint as well.
“He was once just a shooter and now he’s handling, passing, driving and shooting,” Cluess said. “I think he had eight assists [against Niagara], which I was more happy with than whatever amount of points he put on the board. That to me shows that his all around game is getting better and his understanding of the game is getting better.”
Always known as a three-point shooter, Armand has transformed his game as a distributor next to English. He is scoring on over 56% of his two-pointers for just the second time in his career and said that without being able to put the ball on the floor, he wouldn’t be as effective this season.
“Without that this year I would never be able to do the things I’ve been doing so far, especially scoring-wise because I can’t just sit on the three anymore,” Armand said. “I just have to learn how to get open, how to adjust to everything, every defense I’m going to see. Some games it catches me by surprise and it’s hard to adjust and other games, it’s just teammates work hard with me. There’s me becoming a better screener and really a better defender because with our team our defense turns into offense and I have to be able to lead on both ends of the court.”
Armand leads the team with 22 steals and his defense that turns into offense is a reason why the Gaels fast paced offense take about 20 seconds per possession to get an open look.
Bowman, who has been on the team for two years after transferring from Midland junior college by way of Penn State, said Armand’s leadership is apparent every day from his experience under Cluess.
“He brings great leadership because he’s been there four years,” Bowman said. “He knows what it takes to win. He played under coach Cluess for four years and he just brings great leadership. He tells us what to do and he’s a great captain.”
English, who has slid into the role of point guard beside Armand, said that the senior has given him guidance throughout the season. The sophomore said that he tries to ask Armand questions during games and in practice.
“He’s a great leader and the best player on the team,” English said. “I feel like I just try to help him a lot, whatever he needs me to do, I try to do it the best I can.”
Armand said that he sees the next generation of Iona’s leaders he’s teaching in English and Williams. The senior said that when he talks with English, that he sees similarities in how Machado led him.
“They ask me a lot of stuff day, in and day out, off and on the court,” Armand said. “It’s about everything. It’s about in the classroom, keeping your grades up and on the court, being the last one in the gym, first one coming early, getting extra shots up.”
“I tell A.J. [English] all the time, it’s about how you talk to guys. Guys aren’t going to react to being yelled at all the time and stuff like that, it’s just little things that really are big things and they have to learn.”
Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.