BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jason Rowe made good on his promise not to let the Loyola men's basketball team down.
And, with a big lift from freshman Clifford Strong, the Buffalo-born Rowe carried the Greyhounds to a hard-fought 75-72 victory over Fairfield yesterday in the qualifying round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.
After a disastrous performance in Loyola's lopsided loss to Niagara in the finale at Baltimore, Rowe vowed to his teammates that things would be different in the tournament for an up-and-down Greyhounds team that finished the regular season on a low note.
"Jason just wouldn't let us lose this basketball game," said coach Dino Gaudio.
"It was a game that would be won by the guys who wanted it most," said Fairfield coach Tim O'Toole. "It came to down to hitting big shots and they made a lot of them, particularly Jason Rowe."
The victory sends Loyola (13-14) into another confrontation with top-seeded and homestanding Niagara this afternoon in the quarterfinals. Niagara features guard Alvin Young, the nation's leading scorer at almost 25 points a game.
"I just wanted to win this one for the team," said Rowe, a junior guard who won for the first time in Marine Midland Arena. "It's great to be home, but better to get out of this play-in game."
Fairfield (12-15), winner of three MAAC titles, made a game of it with a 9-1 streak to start the second half and tie the game at 43.
From that point, it was touch and go to the final buzzer with Rowe (26 points, seven assists) and Strong (19 points, five rebounds) doing the major damage for the Greyhounds.
Rowe sunk four vital free throws during the stretch run and scored the biggest basket of the game in the lane, giving Loyola a 73-69 lead.
The Stags came right back with a three-pointer by MAAC rookie of the year Jermaine Clark to pull to within one with 8.1 seconds left in the game before Boo Farrow fouled Rowe, who calmly sank two foul shots to nearly ice it.
Fairfield, trailing by three, had one more possession and obviously needed Clark, voted the league's top long-range shooter, to have the ball. He lost it out of bounds.
The Greyhounds caught another break when Fairfield's ferocious rebounder, Darren Phillip, fouled out with 4: 46 left in the game. Earlier in the season, Phillip had 24 rebounds against them to set a MAAC record.
"We're now 11-2 when we hold a team under 75 points," said Gaudio. "It didn't hurt when they lost Phillip because he always hurts us on the backboard."
They didn't come close to holding down Niagara, which scored 94 and 103 points in the two regular-season meetings.
"We've got to play better transition defense and contest a little," said Gaudio. "Hopefully, some of their shots don't fall this time."
Rowe downplayed the impact of his matchup with Young, who had 33 points at Reitz Arena while Rowe was restricted to six after Gaudio sat him on the bench for the final 18 minutes because of shoddy defense.
"I could care less if I score six points or 56 points, as long as Loyola is on top," said the mercurial Rowe, an all-MAAC first team choice who is second in MAAC scoring. "But Niagara's backcourt is definitely a challenge."