Tom Schneider didn't need tea leaves to know he was in trouble when he hit the Loyola College locker room last night. It was all around him, in the facial expressions and body language of his basketball team. Telltale signs were even on the Greyhounds' feet.
"Half the guys didn't even have their shoes tied," the intense Loyola coach complained later.
"Five years ago, I would have gone berserk [over such a sight]. But I said OK, we'll have to struggle through this."
Struggle, they did, but in the end the Greyhounds rewarded Schneider's patience with a scintillating 63-59, catch-em-at-the-wire victory over Canisius before 1,411 fans at Reitz Arena.
It was another milestone for a team that looks amazingly like the little train that could. Fresh from the emotional high of beating Towson State three nights before, the Greyhounds fell flat on their body language. Just as they did against Towson, they assumed a large early deficit (this one bottomed out at 16 points). Just as they did against Towson, they were strong enough to bounce back.
Just like that, the Greyhounds have won four of their last five games. At 10-11, they have a winning season in their sights. After three straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference wins, they are in position to significantly upgrade their MAAC tournament berth. And all of it can be accomplished in the cozy confines of Reitz Arena, where they are 6-2. They play four of their last six regular-season games at home.
"We've got to make it tough on people who come to our court," point guard Tracy Bergan said after scoring the last 10 points in Loyola's torrid comeback. "It was a come-from-behind win in the MAAC. We can build on something like this."
The building blocks came in the second half after a horrific first half. Schneider was sending in reserves five minutes into the game, at which time Canisius (8-13, 2-9) already owned an 11-0 lead. It got worse (17-4, 24-8) before it got better.
On a night when Kevin Green, Loyola's top scorer, was only 3-for-13 for 10 points, the Greyhounds found their inspiration in some unlikely places. Recently demoted starters Mike Wagner and Derek Campbell came off the bench with virtuoso performances.
Wagner, 6 feet 11, pulled down eight rebounds and scored six points in 24 minutes standing in for his replacement, George Sereikas. Campbell, the team captain, shot 3-for-3 for seven points in 21 minutes in place of Jon Haggler.
"I don't like not starting," Wagner said, "but I have to accept my role. George is playing great right now."
Then there were mainstays Kevin Anderson and Bergan. Anderson was "terrific," Schneider said, in a 15-point outing that included a crucial three-point field goal with seven minutes left when the Greyhounds were down by eight.
Bergan rambled out of control at times in the first half before settling down in the second. He finished with 16 points and 10 assists. With 121 career assists, he is four short of breaking Kevin Robinson's 1975 school record.
In a spectacular finish, Bergan scored three straight layups, giving Loyola its first lead at 55-54 with 2:58 to play. At :26, he hit a pull-up jumper in the lane and with nine seconds left he nailed two free throws to ice it.
The Greyhounds play their next two games at home, against Niagara tomorrow night and Manhattan Monday, in a countdown to the MAAC tournament. Wagner, for one, likes this finishing kick.
"This is probably my most enjoyable year at Loyola," said the senior. "We're close to .500. If we do what we should do, we'll be above .500 and have a successful season."