Loyola stops Fairfield for 5th straight, 67-59 Tenacious Greyhounds 3rd seed in MAAC tourney

February 24, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

With eight minutes left in Loyola's regular-season finale yesterday, Jason Rowe undressed a Fairfield guard at midcourt and dribbled in for an uncontested dunk. The 5-foot-10 freshman misjudged his approach, however, and the jam clanged off the back of the rim.

The ball caromed high, bounced again, settled on the front of the rim and dropped through anyway. The sequence symbolized the Greyhounds' season: Even when something goes wrong, it somehow ends right.

Rowe's 19 points and four assists, standard numbers lately, helped the Greyhounds handle the Stags, 67-59, before 1,407 at Reitz Arena. It was Loyola's fifth straight win and the ninth in its past 10 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference games, stirring stuff from a team that was 2-10 in mid-January.

The only MAAC loss down the stretch came at Iona, the regular-season champion, which is in the other half of the draw for the conference tournament in Buffalo, N.Y., next weekend.

Loyola (13-13, 10-4) is the No. 3 seed, and will face Niagara in Saturday's last quarterfinal at 9 p.m. It's the best finish in the Greyhounds' eight seasons in the MAAC.

It's a sleek team, a sports car in a pickup truck league, but Loyola had to make up considerable ground after that stall at the start.

"To finish .500 says a lot for the guys," third-year coach Brian Ellerbe said. "When we made changes for each opponent, the guys grasped what we were trying to do. And of course they never quit. Look, we were 2-10. We've got one post guy. The intestinal fortitude of this team has been amazing."

The Greyhounds will need more than guts to win in the MAAC tournament. Since October, Loyola has lost four scholarship players, two to injury and two to transfers. The conference is down, but can a seven-man rotation win three games in as many days and write a Cinderella story similar to the one the Greyhounds followed to the NCAAs in 1994?

"Every game, it seems like we've got a 12- or 13-point lead with eight minutes to go, but because of that lack of depth, we're unable to put a team away," Ellerbe said. "This game is a mirror image of that."

Fairfield (8-18, 2-12), the preseason No. 1 in the MAAC, instead finished in the basement. Loyola built a quick 10-point lead but then looked like a team going through the motions as the Stags took a 37-33 lead with 16 minutes left.

At the end of a decisive 10-0 run that returned control to Loyola, Rowe blocked a three-pointer as the shot clock was about to sound, and fed fellow freshman Darren Kelly on a three-point play.

Kelly continued his strong play off the bench with 12 points, and junior guard Mike Powell and senior forward Anthony Smith combined for 24 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

FAIRFIELD -- Tice 3-6 1-3 8, Francis 4-9 2-3 11, Eniojukan 2-5 2-5 6, Bowman 2-4 2-3 6, Boucard 3-9 2-4 8, VanRij 0-0 0-0 0, Phillip 5-6 1-3 11, Wall 0-1 0-0 0, Commodore 2-4 0-2 6, Buzbee 0-1 0-0 0, Horan 0-0 0-0 0, Williams 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 22-46 10-23 59.

LOYOLA -- Williams 2-4 0-0 5, Rowe 5-13 8-8 19, Platt 1-5 1-2 3, Powell 4-8 4-4 13, Smith 5-12 1-2 11, Cooper 1-2 2-2 4, Kelly 5-9 1-1 12. Totals 23-53 17-19 67.

Halftime--Loyola 29-28. 3-point goals--Fairfield 5-15 (Tice 1-3, Francis 1-4, Boucard 0-1, Wall 0-1, Commodore 2-4, Buzbee 0-1, Williams 1-1), Loyola 4-13 (Williams 1-1, Rowe 1-6, Powell 1-2, Cooper 0-1, Kelly 1-3). Fouled out--None. Rebounds--Fairfield 27

(Boucard 8), Loyola 37 (Platt 7, Powell 7). Assists--Fairfield 16 (Francis 5, Commodore 5), Loyola 15 (Rowe 4, Smith 4). Total fouls--Fairfield 18, Loyola 22. A--1,407.

MAAC tournament

At Marine Midland Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.

Quarterfinals

Saturday

(Records in parentheses)

No. 1 Iona (22-6, 11-3) vs. No. 8 Fairfield (8-18, 2-12), noon

No. 4 St. Peter's (12-14, 9-5) vs. No. 5 Manhattan (9-17, 5-9), 2 p.m.

No. 2 Canisius (15-11, 10-4) vs. No. 7 Siena (9-17, 4-10), 7 p.m.

No. 3 Loyola (13-13, 10-4) vs. No. 6 Niagara (10-16, 5-9), 9 p.m.

Semifinals

Sunday

Fairfield-Iona winner vs. St. Peter's-Manhattan winner, 6 p.m.

Canisius-Siena winner vs. Loyola-Niagara winner, 8 p.m.

Championship

Next Monday

Semifinal winners, 7: 30 p.m., ESPN

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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