Until last night, Loyola College measured its basketball progress only in vague terms and subtle concepts. Progress was stuff like better defense, a deeper bench, and the school's first road win in more than a year.
In last night's 75-55 thrashing of American University at Reitz Arena, the Greyhounds chased down a milestone that could not be dismissed or distorted by even the harshest of critics.
A year ago it took Loyola four months and 22 games to register its fourth victory. This year it took one month and eight games. Now that's progress.
This was a night to celebrate and savor. It was a win to run up the flagpole and post on the blackboard. Which is what Tom Schneider did in the locker room afterward, put it in chalk.
"I wrote on the blackboard that last year we got our fourth win on Feb. 11," the second-year coach said. "This year we got it on Dec. 11. That shows improvement. The kids should feel good about it.
"[But] we try not to get carried away. It's still a young season."
For the 4-4 Greyhounds, it's young and brimming with promise. They showed a resiliency last night that Schneider had not seen in last season's 4-24 nightmare.
"Last year this was the kind of game where, when they cut [Loyola's lead] to three in the second half, we could've folded. But we didn't," he said.
The Greyhounds didn't because Kevin Green, scoring in Gatling-gun bursts, wouldn't let them. They didn't because little-used senior John Boney came off the bench to deposit four critical buckets down the stretch. They didn't because 6-foot-7 sophomore George Sereikas (11 rebounds) and 6-11 senior Mike Wagner (eight rebounds) held American to a standoff on the boards; because point guard Tracy Bergan, on an off-shooting night, contributed eight assists and four steals; because Kevin Anderson (15 points) nailed a big three-pointer.
And so, after American (3-3) got within 46-43, the Greyhounds answered with a 10-2 run that grew to 29-12 over the final 11 minutes of the game. The difference a year makes?
Green, who scored a game-high 23 points, thinks it starts with defense. "They averaged 87 points coming in and we held them to 55," he said.
They also held American's leading scorer, Brian Gilgeous, to six points before he fouled out with eight minutes left. Gilgeous had been averaging 18.
Boney, meanwhile, who languished on the bench the past two seasons after starting every game as a freshman, thinks it goes back to the two-week Scandinavian trip the team took in the offseason. "The teams we played had a lot of top college players and we came back with a lot of confidence," he said. "We're more together as a team. We're not a group of individuals. The trip had a lot to do with it."
Boney and Sereikas delivered some quality minutes in the second half. Sereikas took 10 of his 11 rebounds after intermission. Boney hit four of five shots for nine points in 15 minutes of playing time, all in the second half.
Still, it was Green who staved off potential collapse at the outset of the second half, scoring 10 of the team's first 15 points.
"Kevin does it when he has to," Boney said. "He knows when it's a tight situation, we rely on him. That's where he's matured. Last year he might force shots. This year he'll kick it back out."
"He's a terrific scorer," Schneider said of Green. "He knows he's got a green light. We talk about quick shots, but I'm not sure if any shot is a bad shot for him."
This was a night to savor, and to bury the past. Schneider doesn't want to hear about 4-24 any more.
"This gets us off the whole thing," he said. "Maybe people will stop writing about last year's record now. That's history. This is a different team."