BUFFALO, N.Y. - Loyola has endured a season of disappointment, but yesterday, the Greyhounds could take some comfort in pulling off the first surprise of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men's tournament.
The ninth-seeded Greyhounds pulled off a preliminary-round upset of No. 8 Fairfield, 60-58, earning the right to face top-seeded Iona this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in a quarterfinal.
"We didn't come here just to win one game," said Loyola's first-year coach, Scott Hicks. "We came to advance. We truly believe we can do that."
Getting past the Gaels will be a tall order. Especially now that the element of suprise is gone, which may not have been the case against Fairfield, which beat the Greyhounds twice during the regular season.
Loyola (6-22) spotted the Stags (12-16) a three-pointer off the opening tip - which as it turned out was the only time the Greyhounds trailed - then came up with an impressive, 14-0 run.
And even though Fairfield rallied to forge a 58-58 tie in the final minute, Loyola still apeared to have the momentum. B.J. Davis' two free throws with 33.5 seconds left proved to be the final element.
"I think this is the most determined we've played all year," said forward John Reimold, who scored five of his 14 points during the Greyhounds' opening run.
"I don't know if they came ready to play or if they thought we weren't going to show up," he said. "But we came out with a vengeance and played the whole game as hard as we could."
Brian Carroll (14 points) got Loyola going with an inside basket, which was followed in short order by a hook shot from Davis (game-high 21 points). Then point guard Damien Jenifer (seven points, seven assists, seven rebounds) stole a ball in the backcourt and went in for a layup, giving the Greyhounds a 6-3 lead.
Reimold capped the string with a long three-pointer, giving Loyola a 14-3 lead.
"We weren't shocked," said Carroll. "We knew that we were coming out to play. Fairfield was probably shocked, but we weren't."
The Stags managed to regroup, cutting the lead to 36-27 by halftime and to 42-41 with 13:23 to play in the second half.
But Fairfield's shooting problems - the Stags shot just 25 percent for the game - proved its undoing. And there was a point when the Greyhounds seemed ready to be overtaken.
Each time, Loyola managed to summon enough defense to make the big stop. The Greyhounds stood no taller than in the final 12 seconds, when Fairfield failed to get a last shot.
Carroll was usually matched up against Sam Spann, Fairfield's top scorer, and held him to seven points, less than half his average.
Chris Rivers and Jermaine Clark led the Stags with 14 points each.
"We're trying to change our image," said Hicks. "We've had some disappointing seasons the last few years, and we're going to turn this around ... so this was a positive step for the program."
LOYOLA - Davis 5-7 7-10 21, Carroll 6-11 2-5 14, Reimold 5-11 1-1 14, Jenifer 3-10 1-3 7, Nasiou 2-4 0-0 4, Southall 0-1 0-0 0, Mack 0-1 0-0 0, Dickey 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-46 11-19 60. FAIRFIELD - Clark 3-11 6-10 14, Rivers 4-13 6-7 14, Delfico 4-13 0-0 8, Spann 2-10 3-7 7, Garcia 0-4 6-8 6, Farrow 1-6 3-3 5, Thomson 2-6 0-0 4, Galvanoni 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 16-64 24-35 58.
Halftime-Loyola 36, Fairfield 27. 3-point goals-Loyola 7-16 (Davis 4-4, Reimold 3-8, Carroll 0-2, Jenifer 0-1, Nasiou 0-1), Fairfield 2-15 (Clark 2-8, Rivers 0-6, Delfico 0-1). Fouled out-Galvanoni, Reimold. Rebounds-Loyola 36 (Carroll 10), Fairfield 45 (Delfico 8). Assists-Loyola 17 (Jenifer 7), Fairfield 8 (Farrow 4). Technical fouls-None. Total fouls-Loyola 25, Fairfield 23. A-NA.