The Loyola College basketball team won four games last season, taking No. 4 on Feb. 11 at home against Fairfield.
Twelve days into December this time, the Greyhounds already have matched that victory total and are looking better every time out. Last night, they capitalized on some cold shooting and poor ball management by American University and rolled to a 75-55 victory at Reitz Arena to reach the .500 level for the first time in more than a year.
Unfortunately, for Loyola coach Tom Schneider, a break arrives just when his team is getting warm. Semester examinations start this week, and after a visit to the University of Maryland Baltimore County next Saturday, the Greyhounds don't play again until Jan. 2.
"It's a bad time for us, but we knew this was coming," said Schneider. "UMBC over there won't be a picnic, and then we're off for 11 more days. When you're going well, you want to keep playing."
The Greyhounds (4-4) were not overwhelming offensively, but they used smart and spirited defense to overcome American's superior size in their first home game since Nov. 24.
"Most of the game, we weren't up by many points, but we felt we were in control," said Kevin Green, who nearly matched his season average (24.0) with 23 points to lead Loyola.
"When some of their players got into foul trouble, we knew it was only a matter of time."
The Eagles (3-3) lost two of their four starting sophomores, Brian Gilgeous and Craig Sedmak, to personal fouls in the final eight minutes and Loyola steadily pulled away.
They entered the night averaging 87.8 points and all five starters in double figures. But Loyola's pressure took them out of their offense, and they committed 14 first-half turnovers.
"We put good ball pressure on their outside men," said Green, "and covered well on the big men down low. They had trouble getting it in there."
The Eagles hit only 10-for-28 from the field (35.7 percent) in the first half and stayed in contention because the Greyhounds were struggling with their own attack.
"We didn't play well offensively, but the defense enabled us to get the lead," said Schneider. "In the second half, we ran our stuff better, were patient and got the ball inside a little."
Several of the Loyola reserves, notably senior John Boney (nine second-half points) and sophomore George Sereikas (11 rebounds) were major contributors.
"I'm happy with the way I've been playing," said Boney. "Tonight, I showed not only myself, but some others that I can play.
"We don't want to stop now for exams. We want to stay on this roll."
Loyola returned from a trip to the Longhorn Classic in Austin, Texas, where it absorbed a 44-point drubbing from Texas, but rebounded to knock off Sam Houston State in the consolation game.
"We got some motivation out there," said Green.
"I don't think the road games have disappointed us like they did last year," said Boney. "Even the first half against Texas, we showed we could stay with that type of competition."
Schneider said the team has acquired some mental toughness and saluted forward Kevin Anderson, who held Gilgeous to six points, 12 below his average.
"If we had gone through the second half last year, we probably would have folded in a game like this," he said. "I'm very confident in these players. They have to get more confident in themselves. We're starting."