There was joy when Loyola posted a pair of upset basketball wins in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but nothing like the raucous celebration the Greyhounds let loose after staring -- down Towson State for an 85-84 victory last night.
Wins in the previous nine days over Iona and Siena were proud moments for a Loyola team struggling to find itself in the MAAC. Last night's success before 2,560 at the Towson Center was even more significant for coach Tom Schneider and company, who are desperate to create their own niche in Baltimore.
"In Baltimore, it's Coppin and Towson up here," said junior guard Kevin Green, raising a hand to shoulder level. He then dropped it to a knee and said "the rest of us are down here at the bottom, trying to prove a point. We can't do anything about Coppin, because we don't play them, but we wanted to make a point tonight."
Loyola came into this season trying to reverse a downhill slide that began in 1986. The following year, Towson State began a six-game win streak over the Greyhounds, the last notch coming Dec. 1 in the championship game of the Beltway Classic. The Tigers came into the rematch on an eight-game win streak that has them atop the East Coast Conference. The Greyhounds are fighting to get out of the MAAC cellar, but they took the upset opportunity very seriously, arranging a Sunday practice at the Towson Center.
Loyola (9-11) is taking everything seriously. The only loss in its last four games came in overtime at St. Peter's, the Greyhounds play five of their last seven regular-season games at Reitz Arena, and the school's first winning season since 1986-87 is more feasible every day.
It's basically the same personnel that went 4-24 last year, with one exception. Tracy Bergan, last night's last-minute hero, was an academic casualty at the midway mark of the 1989-90 campaign, and the Greyhounds floundered without the point guard.
"I just think all of the guys have grown up a lot," Schneider said. "There were times last year when the confidence level wasn't there. These guys are feeling good about themselves now."
Loyola appeared destined to a long-faced finish when it squandered all of a 77-66 lead in the last five minutes, but Bergan nailed a 12-footer from the right baseline to win it with 12 seconds left. The final seconds resulted in a wild scramble for a loose ball after Chuck Lightening's cross-court pass was deflected by Derek Campbell, a Loyola senior who also helped secure his first win over the Tigers by grabbing nine rebounds and making five of six free throws. He came in shooting 48.3 percent at the line.
Improbable comebacks over Bucknell, Drexel and Delaware were the highlights of the eight-game win streak for Towson State (13-7), but the Tigers couldn't pull off another escape act. Employing a fullcourt press, they rattled the Greyhounds into five turnovers during their late bid, the last a Lewis Waller theft that resulted in a Terrance Jacobs basket and an 84-83 Towson lead with 46 seconds left.
Green had a game-high 28 points, and he appreciated the outcome more than anyone, since his senior year at Dunbar saw him overshadowed by Jacobs (Southern) and Devin Boyd (Walbrook), the Towson State leader. Jacobs led the Tigers with 26 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Boyd had 22 points three minutes into the second half, but only three the rest of the way, those coming off the fierce pressure that got Towson State back in the game with a 10-0 spurt. He and Bergan are non-traditional point guards who like to push the pace, and the free hands they're given made for an up-tempo game that had 10 ties and 10 lead changes. Bergan had 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting and nine assists, but also was charged with 12 of Loyola's 23 turnovers.
The Tigers came out with some inspired ball movement and made seven of their first 10 shots en route to a 24-12 lead. After Loyola used a 16-5 run to go up 77-66, the Greyhounds couldn't even get the ball past midcourt on four straight possessions.
Towson State coach Terry Truax would have liked to have seen more of that kind of pressure, as Loyola, shooting 42.9 percent on the season, hit a season-high 60.7 percent, 71.4 in the second half. Besides the Bergan-Green combination, sophomore forward George Sereikas had 14 points and seven rebounds, and junior forward Kevin Anderson had 10 points.
"Loyola's defense was good, but at the same time we never stopped them," Truax said.
The Tigers, who got 16 points from Lightening, enjoyed more trips to the free throw line, but they converted only 16 of 25 attempts.