Loyola doesn't have the basketball tradition of North Carolina State or La Salle, but those three have something in common this season: They have wilted in the face of Princeton pressure.
The Greyhounds appeared to have a monumental victory in hand yesterday, as Kevin Anderson's three-pointer from the right corner raised their cushion over Princeton to 46-36 with 7 minutes, 34 seconds remaining. The Tigers denied Loyola nearly every offensive option the rest of the way, however, as the Ivy League champions scored the game's final 11 points for a 47-46 win before 2,734 at Reitz Arena.
Chris Mooney's tying and winning free throws with 2:40 left were the last points of the game, as Loyola had three chances to regain the lead. Tracy Bergan missed the front end in a bonus free-throw situation with 2:02 remaining, Kevin Green's three-pointer from the left of the key wouldn't drop with 50 seconds left, and George Sereikas missed an open 14-footer from the left side just before the final buzzer.
On its last 10 possessions, Loyola missed its only free throw, was 0-for-4 from the field, committed four turnovers and lost another possession on an offensive foul by Michael Reese.
That's typical against coach Pete Carril and Princeton, the NCAA leader in points allowed in nine of the past 16 seasons. In its two previous games, both victories, the Tigers' 1-2-2 zone held N.C. State scoreless in the final 3:10 of overtime and limited La Salle to a free throw in an extra session.
"It's difficult to score against them any time," Loyola coach Tom Schneider said. "They get accustomed to what you're running and make adjustments. On the last shot, they did a good job of taking our first options away. If justice had been served, with the game George played, that ball would have gone in."
Loyola's stifling defense was sparked by Sereikas, who took his opponent at center out of the game. With freshman Rick Hielscher, the Tigers' top scorer, making two of 11 attempts, Princeton shot 37 percent (17-for-46) from the field.
Playing for the first time since it beat La Salle on Dec. 21, the Tigers were ragged at the start but were rescued by senior guard Sean Jackson, who hit all four of his second-half three-point attempts en route to a game-high 20 points. No other Princeton player had more than five.
"Give Loyola credit for some of our troubles," said Carril, whose team committed a shot-clock violation on its last possession. "We saw some tapes of Loyola, and on those they didn't play as hard as they did today. If they play that hard all the time, they're going to be OK. They came after us. It could be Tommy [Schneider] still hates Princeton."
In four seasons at Penn, Schneider was 4-4 against Princeton.
Playing their second game in less than 44 hours and before the first local TV audience of a college game in four years, his Greyhounds were sharp at the start. Princeton had one basket in the first eight minutes, and trailed by 21-8 with 7:01 left, as Green had seven points and a strong shadowing of Jackson.
Jackson, who went the entire 40 minutes, and four reserves erased all but three points of that deficit before halftime, however. The Princeton bench came through again in the second half, after Loyola pulled away from a 37-36 lead with a 9-0 run that began with Reese's hustle at both ends, continued with Green's three-point play and finished with Anderson's three-pointer from the right corner.
Down 46-36, Jackson answered from long distance 20 seconds later and Loyola lost its way at the offensive end. Jimmy Lane, subbing for Hielscher at the high post, dropped in a hook over Sereikas, then fed Jackson for his last three with 3:31 left. Two possessions later, Lane passed underneath to Mooney, who hit the decisive free throws.
Loyola got 17 points from Green and 16 from Reese, who was 7-for-10 from the field and had a game-high nine rebounds. Bergan's seven assists were tempered by five of the team's 12 turnovers, and Sereikas chipped in five blocked shots. Sereikas played the entire second half, when his only shot was the game's last attempt.
Matt Eastwick, a senior forward who went to Gilman School, was one of three Princeton starters to score five points, and he also had five rebounds.