Saturday, February 11, 2012

Loyola Takes Steps Beyond Being Respectable

It was within just a few minutes after his team's 70-60 loss to Saint Peter's in the quarterfinal round of last season's conference post-season tournament that Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos addressed the state of his program.

"We've reached respectability," said Patsos. "Now, we have to take the next step."

A year ago Loyola finished 10-8 in MAAC play and 15-15 overall. Yes, that's respectability. Particularly for a program that had a 1-27 overall record, the worst in Division I in 2003-04, the year before Patsos took over.

Even in his first year (a 5-13 finish in MAAC play), Patsos acknowledged some fan abuse at a road game by turning and yelling back to the hecklers: "Wait until I get my own players in here."

Patsos now has his own players, and how about this for taking the next step?

The Greyhounds are alone atop the MAAC standings with a 12-2 record after an 87-81 victory over Iona in the battle of the conference's top two teams. And the score doesn't begin to measure Loyola's game-long dominance.

Loyola led by as many as 25 early in the second half, and only some late-game scoring punch by the Gaels' Mike Glover (22 points, 16 rebounds) and Sean Armand (25 points in the game), enabled Iona to et within five with 1:07 left. But, the Gaels never truly threatened.

And, how about this for taking the next step?

A sell-out crowd of 2,100 was on hand for the contest, the second straight packed house for a Loyola home game. It was the first time there were back-to-back sell-out crowds for Loyola home games since its on-campus Reitz Arena was built in 1984.

The Greyhounds rewarded the faithful with a strong display of team play against an opponent that, in the coaches' preseason poll, was the clear-cut choice to claim this year's championship.

Forward Erik Etherly and guard Dylon Cormier each finished with 22 points for Loyola.

Of course there's one more step for Patsos' program to take, even if it winds up as this season's regular-season champion. That would be winning the MAAC's post-season tournament and the resultant automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

If it can do that, it would be the program's first trip to the NCAA's since 1994 when the late Skip Prosser was the team's coach.

After Friday's victory over Iona, Patsos spoke about his team's recent steps.

"I left a program (Maryland, where he was an assistant coach) where we cut down the nets in 2004 in the ACC tournament," Patsos said. "To come here was a bit of a risk. But this is a great school, so I knew I could build here.

"Gary Williams (then the Maryland coach) and I talked about this a lot. Climbing Mount Everest isn't that bad for the first half (of the climb). The next 25 percent is attainable. The last 25 percent, you don't know till you get there."

All that's left for Patsos' team to get to the summit of its MAAC mountain is winning the MAAC tournament.

His program, now, is way beyond just being respectable and well on its way to taking the next step.

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