The players and coaches on the Loyola basketball team displayed varying emotions after their magical run to the school's first NCAA tournament in 18 years ended early Friday morning at the Consol Energy Center .

Junior forward Erik Etherly, his eyes red-rimmed and teary, cried.

Guards R.J. Williams and Dylon Cormier, the team's Baltimore backcourt, smiled.

And Jimmy Patsos, the team's 45-year-old coach, rambled long after Loyola (24-9) finished its most successful season in the program's 30-year history in Division I.

But all shared a common thought —despite the 78-59 loss to No. 2 Ohio State, the No. 15 Greyhounds will try to build on the experience of holding their own for long stretches against a Big Ten team ranked in the top 10 for the entire season.

"It means a lot to us," said Williams.. "We get to figure out what we need to work on and how we can build better as a team and we just learn from this game."

Said Etherly , who helped keep the Greyhounds competitive with 19 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots in the first half."We've come miles since the beginning of the season."

The program has come even further in the eight years since Patsos inherited a 1-27 team and won six games his first year.

"Great game, really proud of Loyola University," Patsos said. "A couple of years ago, our president changed the name from college to university. That's really important for our school because it helps everything: students, student-athletes, recruiting.

"I thought we played really hard, which is what we do at Loyola University. I'm proud of my kids for playing. We set a school record for wins. The MAAC had two teams going to the NCAA. We're not just growing as a program, but I think the league is growing."

Patsos was just getting started as he began his typical stream of consciousness during the post-game news conference.

"To play Ohio State, one of the best teams in the country, you're not going to win that game without having everything go right. We didn't have everything go right," he said. "We played hard and competed and the guys had a great experience.

"At the end of the day, Loyola University played the Ohio State Buckeyes in the NCAA. I'm so glad my kids got to go. Dylon, even though I get on him, he's my captain. He's only a sophomore. Erik is a transfer. Grateful to coach them. It was a great game for us."

Patsos finished the opening statement by talking about Ohio State sophomore forward DeShaun Thomas ("I was worried about DeShaun Thomas, he had 31 (points) 12 (rebounds)." He added a thought on his professional life ("Jimmy doesn't just tend bar, he coaches basketball.") And went back to Thomas again ("But I've been coaching for 35 years and DeShaun Thomas is a great player, I expect to see him all-Big Ten."

Etherly didn't seem to think it was that big a deal to hold his own with Buckeyes forward Jared Sullinger, last season's Freshman of the Year. Sullinger finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots.

"Just went out there and played hard," Etherly said. "I didn't have anything to prove to anybody. I just wanted to win the game."

Competitive early after scoring five of the game's first six points, Loyola found itself trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half before cutting the deficit to 10 and by as many as 20 in the second half before a 9-0 run forced Ohio State coach Thad Matta to put both Sullinger and Thomas back in the game with 2:18 remaining.

The Buckeyes (28-7) advance to Saturday's third round game against No. 9 Gonzaga.

"It was a cool game to play," Patsos said. "We needed to get it to six or seven (point deficit), and we couldn't."

The Greyhounds lose only one starter, senior forward Shane Walker, among those who played regularly.

Patsos said that he would like to see the Greyhounds make the NCAA tournament a regular occurrence, something that a handful of MAAC teams have accomplished. Since 2000, three MAAC teams went to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, including Siena three years in a row (2008-10).

"Erik can get better," Patsos said of Etherly, who was first-team all-MAAC as well as MVP in the conference tournament. "Justin Drummond just turned 19. Dylon is 19, a sophomore. He's got a big upside. Jordan Latham has a big upside. Julius Brooks can help us next year. We got some guys coming in who can help us. But I'm nervous about Shane Walker (graduating). He was my coach on the court this year."

Said Williams, "I'm excited for next year because we're only losing one player. Everyone feels the same way that we can get back here next year."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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