In 2004, when Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos inherited a men's basketball team that won just one game the previous year, the longtime assistant to Maryland's Gary Williams could hardly have imagined his team would be in this position just four seasons later.
After a 67-64 win yesterday over UC Davis at Reitz Arena, a win in one of their last two games would not only give the Greyhounds their first back-to-back 18-win seasons since 1954-55 and 1955-56, but it also would put Loyola in a position to capture the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season crown.
Patsos spoke to the crowd before the game and thanked it for its support - attributing much of his team's turnaround and success to the faithful fans, most of whom were wearing green "Dog Pound" T-shirts.
The win didn't come easily for the Greyhounds or their fans. It was a hard-fought game between teams that were among those in the pool that received ESPN television consideration as part of the BracketBuster event taking place across the country this weekend.
The Aggies (8-19), who dressed only eight players because of injuries, led 28-19 with 7:32 left in the first half thanks to 11-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-4 from three-point range (they went 0-for-12 from behind the arc the rest of the way).
Loyola (17-12) fought back to within one at the break and trailed 60-58 with 2:30 to play in the game before tying it at 60 on a jump shot by Gerald Brown (16 points). The Greyhounds scored the next five points - including a three-pointer by Marquis Sullivan (14 points, including four three-pointers) - to put the game away in the final seconds.
Now, something that seemed improbable when Patsos took over in 2004 is within his team's grasp with two games left in the regular season. The Greyhounds are in a four-way tie for the top spot in the MAAC with Canisius (4-22, 2-14) up next in the final home game Thursday, followed by a game at Marist (15-12, 9-7) next Sunday.
"I kind of had a plan," Patsos said with a grin after the game. That plan included tapping into the talent-rich Baltimore area to sign players such as Sullivan (Archbishop Spalding) and Brown (Douglass). Patsos said both "took a risk" by joining a program that had struggled significantly in recent years.
"This definitely helps the school build for the future," Brown said. "It's good for the school and the community."
UC DAVIS-Portz 2-6 0-0 4, Calegari 3-9 0-0 8, Oliver 4-11 3-4 11, Payne 6-8 5-5 17, Carter 2-7 2-3 6, Toth 0-1 0-1 0, Clark 3-5 0-0 6, Brucculeri 4-8 2-2 12. Totals 24-55 12-15 64. LOYOLA-Tuck 4-10 4-5 13, Fofana 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 4-9 7-12 16, Manning 0-2 0-0 0, Rudolph 3-9 0-0 6, Lewis 3-4 0-0 6, Harvey 2-4 6-6 12, Sullivan 5-11 0-0 14. Totals 21-49 17-23 67. Half-UC Davis, 38-37. 3-point goals-UC Davis 4-16 (Brucculeri 2-5, Calegari 2-5, Carter 0-1, Payne 0-2, Oliver 0-3), Loyola 8-23 (Sullivan 4-10, Harvey 2-4, Brown 1-3, Tuck 1-3, Rudolph 0-1, Manning 0-2). Rebounds-UC Davis 23 (Calegari, Payne 5), Loyola 40 (Tuck 9). Assists-UC Davis 12 (Brucculeri, Calegari, Oliver, Payne, Portz, Toth 2), Loyola 14 (Rudolph 8). Total fouls-UC Davis 20, Loyola 17. A-1,386.