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For Mount and Loyola, hoops rivalry has special meaning

BasketballMetro Atlantic Athletic ConferenceMarist Red Foxes

When Jimmy Patsos goes to Loyola alumni functions, former basketball players "can't wait" to tell him about their battles against Mount St. Mary's. When Jamion Christian played for the Mountaineers under Jim Phelan, the legendary coach was "always juiced to play" the Greyhounds.

Since 1910, Loyola and Mount St. Mary's have played 167 times, with the Mount holding a 96-71 edge. On Saturday at Reitz Arena, Patsos' Greyhounds and Christian's Mountaineers will continue the most-played rivalry in Maryland with game No. 168.

Needless to say neither coach should have much trouble motivating his players for Saturday's matchup.

"Mount and Loyola is what basketball is about in this state," Patsos said. "Our players like the [in-state] rivalries. They pay more attention to it. They know [the importance and] we talk about it. We have [alumni] Christmas parties, [and former players] can't wait to [talk about] 'the Mount back when we played.' "

Christian, a three-year captain at the Mount who graduated in 2004, remembers Phelan's relatively low-key approach to the rivalry.

"Coach never wanted to make it too big of a deal for us. But he always talked about wanting to really beat Loyola," said Christian, in his first year as head coach. "We did extra preparations for it. Neither of our programs were really at an elite level [when I played], but it was a big game for multiple reasons because we both needed to win."

Much has changed in the eight years since Christian played his last college game in Emmitsburg. The Mountaineers are on their third coach since Phelan after Milan Brown left for Holy Cross in 2010 and Robert Burke was placed on administrative leave last season and ultimately resigned. Under Christian, however, the Mountaineers (4-3) appear to be on the right track.

"He's doing a great job," Patsos said. "They run, they press, they play hard, they shoot 3s. He's got the kids excited to play. He's done an excellent job."

The Mountaineers, who finished last season with an 8-21 record, have beaten George Washington and Binghamton on the road and topped Hartford and Navy at home this year. Two junior guard transfers — Rashard Whack (George Mason) and Sam Prescott (Marist) — have paced the Mount with 12.7 and 10 points per game, respectively. Junior guard Julian Norfleet, Mount's leading scorer a year ago, is second on the team with 10.4 points per game.

Loyola, which has won its past two meetings against the Mount, has picked up right where it left off last spring. The reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions are off to an 8-3 start. Junior combo guard Dylon Cormier (Cardinal Gibbons) is averaging a team-high 17.4 points, while senior forward Erik Etherly, out the past six games with a shoulder injury and questionable for Saturday's contest, averages 15.7 points and eight rebounds.

"What an unbelievable job [Patsos has] done at Loyola," Christian said. "Watching them on film, I think they're the best team we've played all year. They've just done a great job. I watched them from afar last year. They're really good.

"We've really just talked about how good Loyola is, how physical they are, how they rebound the ball. It's another game for us, [but] we have to be really prepared and have to be ready. … We've scouted Loyola and have a ton of respect for what they do. But you have a lot of different things, defensively, to prepare for. We play a very aggressive, in-your-face style. We have to be ready to go out and play well from the opening tip."

Loyola senior guard Bobby Olson, one of four Greyhounds captains, grew up in Silver Spring but wasn't aware of this rivalry's existence until his freshman year. Olson said Patsos tells his team to treat this "like any other game," but the energy level from both teams always makes this game special.

"I'm really excited. I think this is always such a fun game," Olson said. "We've always had some close games against them. A big rivalry game, this is really what you play for. We're pumped."

mbracken@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mattbracken

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