Ah, to be young, in the midst of a win streak and going to Buffalo in the dead of winter.
Loyola College's next basketball game is at Niagara Thursday, and the Greyhounds will stay in western New York to play Canisius Saturday. They would have gladly left for the road trip last night, because the games don't come fast enough for coach Tom Schneider's crew these days.
After three deplorable seasons in which it won a total of 22 games, Loyola is on a roll the likes of which it last experienced in 1984.
The Greyhounds made it four straight and six of their last seven with a satisfying 81-72 comeback conquest over Manhattan last night before 1,810 at Reitz Arena. The Jaspers came in as the second-place team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, behind only La Salle, and suddenly the Greyhounds no longer are the loop's poor stepchild.
Loyola is 12-11 overall, 5-7 in the MAAC, but three weeks ago the Greyhounds were completing a 1-6 skid in which the lone win came against Navy. His team was 0-6 in the MAAC at the time, and Schneider's goal was a modest one, getting Loyola out of the game between the eighth- and ninth-place teams that opens the MAAC postseason tournament in Albany, N.Y., March 1.
"Back then [a week break following a 27-point loss at Iona Jan. 19], we were just talking about winning a game, not going on a roll like this," Schneider said. "This win probably does it [put Loyola directly in the MAAC quarterfinals]. It's a great win against a team that's been playing well."
Loyola is the hottest team in the MAAC. Its only setback during its 6-1 roll came in overtime at St. Peter's, and if Loyola continues to improve and establish itself, it wouldn't be an upset to see the Greyhounds in the MAAC semifinals.
"At the end of last year, we weren't thinking about playing like this," senior center Mike Wagner said about a 4-24 finish that is becoming a distant memory. "But then we played well in our trip to Europe last summer, and people began to think differently about themselves.
"We knew we were going to face a rough part of the schedule after Christmas, playing some of the best teams in the conference at their place. But no one got down because we also knew we would finish with 12 games that were all winnable."
Wagner is a role player in an odd bunch. Schneider frequently talks about what a rugged conference the MAAC is, but he's starting what is basically a three-guard lineup along with two forwards who are 6-foot-7 and 6-6. In the coach's own words, the senior class has been much maligned, but Derrick Campbell and the 6-10 Wagner rebound and play defense, and others have quietly accepted lesser roles.
The hub remains the backcourt tandem of junior Kevin Green and sophomore Tracy Bergan. Green had 26 last night, including seven during a 12-0 spurt that began to bring the Greyhounds back from a 44-30 deficit they faced two minutes into the second half. Bergan took over after that, cramming 17 of his game-high 29 into the last 8:22, when Loyola pulled away from a tie at 53.
Loyola dug itself a 37-28 halftime hole by shooting 35.5 percent. The only thing pretty about this team is Green's floating jumper, but the Greyhounds do hustle. They are usually out-rebounded, but they handled Manhattan by fighting their way to a 51-38 advantage on the boards.
Campbell had a team-high 13, and harassed Keith Bullock, one of the MAAC's top forwards, into 6-for-15 shooting. Bullock finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, but the Jaspers (13-10, 8-4 in the MAAC) couldn't find him in the stretch.