Loyola entered what coach Jimmy Patsos called "part 3" of its season Saturday night; and the Greyhounds, already the most-successful team in the school's Division I history, did it well.
"We went and played a tough non-conference schedule and we did well in the non-conference (8-3)," Patsos said. "Then you have the second part, which is the MAAC (regular season). Then you have the third part, the MAAC tournament, and the fourth part, postseason."
Having accomplished parts 1 and 2, Loyola kicked off part 3 with an 86-73 victory over Niagara in the quarterfinals of the MAAC league tourney.
"We just talked (before the game) about how we did good in the first two (parts), so let's keep doing what got us here," Patsos said. "No special things for part 3."
Which could lead to part four: hopefully a berth in the NCAA tournament.
This team has already accomplished so much: 22 wins, Patsos being named Coach of the Year in the conference, four players named to the three All-League teams (one of them, Justin Drummond, was also named 6th Man of the Year).
As a result, it would almost be easy for this group, which has been projected as an NIT team even if it doesn't win the tournament, to rest on its laurels.
But there's still work to be done.
Coming in as the second seed, Loyola beat No. 7 Niagara to advance to the semifinals against Siena, which defeated Manhattan in overtime later Saturday night. Lurking around the corner may well be a matchup with No. 1 Iona, a 25-win team that is leading the nation in scoring.
"That's a good team. That's going to be a tough out right there," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "Iona is the favored team. I guess they should be, but that's a heck of a team right there. They've got all the pieces to the puzzle; they shoot it, they got big guys, they rebound it, they got a niche.
"The best team won tonight. That's a good team."
Guard Dylon Cormier (second team All-MAAC) scored 23 points, 15 in a 49-point second half, forward Erik Etherly (first team) delivered 21 points (they shot a combined 16-for-23 from the floor), and forward Shane Walker (Patsos calls HIM Coach of the Year because of his leadership) added a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Loyola was a bigger team, playing against a four-guard Niagara lineup and against a Purple Eagles team that is the third-youngest in college basketball. Eventually, the Greyhounds (22-8) wore the Eagles down, after the game was tied at the half.
Niagara freshman guard Juan'ya Green, MAAC Rookie of the Year, did what he could to keep his team in the game, with 22 points, eight assists and three steals. But the Hounds just had too much.
Niagara (14-19) led 41-39 two minutes into the second half when Loyola ran off nine straight points over a 1:29 span to take a seven-point lead and never trail again.
Green nailed a 3-pointer and was fouled on another, making all three free throws for a personal 6-0 run that brought the Purple Eagles back. But ahead by two, the Greyhounds, who shot a season-high 63 percent from the floor, reeled off seven straight to go up by nine with 11:29 left.
The lead grew to 12 thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by Robert Olson (eight of his nine points came in the second half), but Green wouldn't let his team go away. The lead got down to four with 6:32 left, but Cormier hit a three, Loyola's fourth (of five) in the half, after failing to hit one in the first half, that restored a seven-point lead.
NOTES: Walker's double-double was his third of the year. ... The teams split two games during the regular season, each winning on the other's home floor. ... Former New York Knick Anthony Mason was on hand to see his son, Antoine, play for Niagara. The younger Mason scored 11 points in the game. ... In the earlier games, Rakim Sanders had 15 points and eight rebounds and fourth-seed Fairfield held off Rider, 65-63; while Mike Glover had 29 points and seven rebounds, and conference Player of the Year and national assist leader (10.0 per game after Saturday's game) Scott Machado added 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds in No. 1 Iona's 87-63 victory over Marist. That was Iona's 25th win of the year. The Gaels play Fairfield in Sunday's first game. ... This tournament is being played at a neutral site for the first time since the 1989 tourney was played at the Meadowlands. It caps a season of celebration between the league and the nearby Basketball Hall of Fame, which unveiled a MAAC exhibit prior to the start of the season. ... Niagara advanced out of the first round with an 80-70 win, its third of the season over rival Canisius, as Green led five players in double figures with 20 points.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun