March 5, 2012
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Eight long years ago, the Loyola University Maryland men's basketball team completed it's the 2003-2004 season with a 1-27 record and the worst RPI in college hoops.
On Monday night at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., everything came full circle for the Greyhounds as they punched their ticket to NCAA Tournament, winning the 2012 Metro Atlantic Atheltic Conference Championship.
Loyola (24-8) held Fairfield University to 14 second-half points, and the Greyhounds cut down the nets with a 48-44 victory.
"This is the culmination of the work of many people," said eighth-year Head Coach Jimmy Patsos. "It was the players this year, but it was many others who came before us who made this happen."
Patsos was hired following the 2003-2004 season and earlier this season won his 100th career game. With that milestone, he became just the second coach nationally in the last 20 years to take over a program that had won zero or one game the season before to capture 100 victories at that school.
"Tonight is a major event for our school. When I took over at Loyola, the program had gone 1-27, but it was not a 1-27 school. Loyola is an amazing place that believed in our team, believed in me an gave us an opportunity to win. We made that happen tonight."
The Greyhounds will play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994, the only previous year they won the MAAC Championship. That year, Loyola was coached by the late Skip Prosser and met the University of Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Erik Etherly was the only Loyola player in double figures, scoring 10 points. He earned MAAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors after scoring 21 in each of the weekend's first two games. He was joined on the All-Tournament team by Robert Olson and Justin Drummond.
Loyola trailed at the half, 30-26, but the Greyhounds scored the second half's first nine points and held the Stags (19-14) scoreless for the first 7 minutes, 48 seconds of the frame.
Dylon Cormier made a back-door cut to the basket and laid in an Etherly pass nine seconds into the half, starting the run.
Etherly then scored in the paint at 18:33 to tie the game at 30-30. Neither Loyola, nor the Stags, scored for over two minutes, but R.J. Williams was fouled on a 3-point attempt. He made all three at the free-throw line to put Loyola in front for good at 33-30.
Cormier made a transition layup at 13:57 to give Loyola a 5-point lead, and Fairfield finally scored a second-half point at 12:12 when Desmond Wade made 1-of-2 at the free-throw line.
Fairfield drew within three, 42-39, on a Rakim Sanders jumper with 7:14 on the clock, but Walker responded with his only field goal of the game 34 seconds later when he picked up a loose ball that squirted out of Cormier's hands, laying it off the glass as the shot clock expired.
Maurice Barrow scored for Fairfield at 6:11, making it a 3-point Greyhounds lead again, but Drummond nailed a 15-foot jumper for Loyola at 5:47.
Walker made 1-of-2 at the line with 5:05 to play, and again the Greyhounds turned to their defense.
They held the Stags scoreless until Wade hit a desperation, fade-away three with 2:42 left to pull Fairfield within three, 47-44.
Wade's three, however, would be the last points Fairfield would score in the game.
Loyola's defense kept the Stags from getting a good look at the rim, as Ryan Olander and Sanders missed shots on their next possession. Olson grabbed the defensive rebound off Sanders' shot, and Loyola ran 31 seconds off the clock before missing a shot.
Fairfield's next trip down the court showed more promise when Barrow grabbed the rebound off an Olander three, but Etherly swatted his shot away, and Walker grabbed the rebound.
Cormier missed a free throw after Fairfield committed two fouls following Walker's rebound.
Sanders then missed an off-balance three for Fairfield, and Walker ripped down another rebound to secure the win. He was fouled and made 1-of-2 at the line to ice the win.
"We had guys that were just not going to let us lose tonight," Patsos said. "We said in the locker room that we were here, so we were going to take this thing. That's what we did."
The Greyhounds held Fairfield to 6-of-31 from the floor (19.4-percent) in the second half, and they made five steals and forced seven Stags turnovers after the break.
Sanders led the Stags with 12 points, and Barrow had 10 points to go with 13 rebounds.
Loyola will find out its opponent in the NCAA Championship on Sunday, March 11.