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Charlie Bell knew this day was coming and nobody was going to stop him. The sophomore scored a career-high 25 points, had a team-high seven rebounds and a team-high five assists. Bell and Greyhounds could finally breathe a sigh of relief and taste the joy of victory with their 63-57 win over Marist at Reitz Arena on Thursday night.
"Give our student body a lot of credit," says Loyola Head Coach Scott Hicks. "It's not always easy to get that kind of support when you're losing games and they came out in full force. They really played the role of sixth man tonight."
The crowd was loud and boisterous from the start when Loyola made its first four shots of the game to go up 10-7. The Greyhounds extended to a nine-point lead with back-to-back three-pointers from Jamaal Dixon and Bernard Allen. It wouldn't be that easy, however, as Marist rallied with a 12-2 run to take a 23-22 lead with 3:34 left in the first half.
Undaunted, Dixon converted a conventional three-point play to put Loyola back on top. Shane James would score off his own steal at mid-court and the `Hounds closed out the first half on a 7-0 run to take a 30-23 lead into the lockeroom.
"We knew we had a good plan going into the game," says Hicks. "We've been up at the half before and we just had to carry out the game plan in the second half. Tonight we did that - plus our shots fell."
The shots continued to fall for Loyola in the second half and with Bell's three-pointer four minutes into the half, the Greyhounds led 38-30. Once again, Marist battled back with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to one point. Sean Corrigan quickly put Loyola back up by four with a three from the top of the key and Bell's hard drive to the hole had the `Hounds up 43-37.
"My teammates did a great job of feeding me when I got hot," says Bell. "I give all the credit to them."
Bell got hot and stayed hot, scoring 20 points in the second half, helping Loyola take a 10-point lead with eight minutes to play. The Greyhound defense, which held Marist's starting guards to 3-of-19 shooting from the field on the night, caused 16 Marist turnovers. The Red Foxes, however, would respond with one more run, cutting the lead to 56-54 with 2:45 left in regulation.
"As the starting point guard, I knew my job was to take care of the ball," says James. "My focus was on getting my teammates involved and they stepped up when they needed to."
Dixon answered the call with Loyola's next four points. The `Hounds would play it from the free throw line the rest of the way out, bringing home a six-point victory as the 2,000-plus faithful at Reitz Arena stormed the court at the buzzer.
"This is a huge weight off our shoulders," says Dixon. "We have that first win and now we can focus on playing our game. If we keep this up and get better going into the MAAC tournament, anything can happen?"
The Greyhounds move to 1-9 in the MAAC and travel to St. Peter's this Saturday. The win snaps a 31-game losing streak that falls two shy of the NCAA record held by Grambling. Bell's 25 points ties his career-high, set last Sunday at Fairfield. Dixon finished the game with 11 points while both Allen and Corrigan add eight points in the win.
"There are a lot of happy guys in our lockeroom tonight," says Hicks. "I'm finally going to enjoy an evening."