Loyola gave a youthful Niagara team a lesson in the importance of having veteran, experienced players at this time of the season while earning an 86-73 victory over the Jaspers in a quarterfinal-round game of the men's MAAC tournament Saturday evening.
The Greyhounds' three returning starters from a year ago, senior center Shane Walker (13 points, 12 rebounds), junior forward Erik Etherly (21 points, four rebounds) and sophomore guard Dylon Cormier (23 points, six rebounds) led the way for Loyola, now 22-8.
"We're the third youngest team in the country and as young as we are we have some frustrating moments," admitted Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "Every experience is the first time around for us, and that's what this was tonight.
"We talked about the things we needed to do in this game, but we didn't do it. Their size killed us inside. The best team definitely won. They've got shooting, defense, experience ... that (Loyola) is a big out right there."
Big out, as in a difficult team to eliminate from this event. Loyola advances to Sunday's 4:30 p.m. semifinal round against the winner of Saturday's Siena-Manhattan contest.
The winners, already having recorded the most victories (22-8) since the program has played on the Division I level, broke away from a two-point lead early in the second half with a strong display of outside shooting (10-21 from three-point range for the game) and heady decision making that produced a season's best 63.0 percent field goal accuracy (29-of-46).
Loyola's program continues to improve from its low point of a 1-29 record the year before Patsos became its coach eight years ago.
"If you want to be a real good mid-major program, there are four stages," said Patsos. "You have to play a good non-league schedule and we did (going 8-3). Then there's the MAAC season. The third stage is this tournament and the fourth part is a (national) post-season tournament."
With 22 victories, it would appear the Greyhounds are well positioned to get invited to a post-season event should it not qualify for the NCAA tournament by capturing this event..