Canisius basketball coach John Beilein said of his game with Loyola last night that, with just four seniors among the two teams' regulars, the team that made the fewest mistakes and hit the most free throws at the end would take the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opener.
And Beilein was right, though it seemed highly improbable that the Griffins, losers of 25 previous road games against Division I opposition, would eke out a 53-48 win over Loyola at Reitz Arena.
But Canisius (4-5, 1-0 in the MAAC), bolstered by 23 points from sophomore forward Craig Wise and clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch, got a hard-fought win.
"When Loyola comes back up to us, we'll see two vastly better teams who will have grown a great deal between now and then," said Beilein.
Canisius, which hadn't won on the road since November 1991 and never had beaten Loyola here, made up a three-point halftime deficit with a blistering, 17-0 run to start the second half.
But, even with that charge, the Greyhounds (1-8, 0-1) had chances to tie and lead in the last minute, but fumbled them away.
"It [the game] got away from us. I can't fault our effort at all. We had enough opportunities, but we just didn't take advantage," said Loyola coach Tom Schneider.
Loyola, which trailed by as much as 11 in the second half, pulled to within two with 1:48 left, when center Mark Sparzak hit a 16-foot jumper to cut the Griffins' lead to 49-47.
Canisius guard Damone James missed a jumper with 1:05 left, and Loyola's Matt Gabriel was fouled with 59 seconds left, and went to the line to shoot the potentially tying free throws.
But Gabriel, shooting just 62 percent from the foul line, missed the second shot. Matt Walker grabbed the offensive rebound, but Michael Meeks blocked his follow attempt and was fouled by Loyola's B.J. Pendleton.
Meeks made both his shots, after missing two of three free throws four minutes earlier.
The Greyhounds had one final chance, but turned the ball over on a fast-break opportunity with 25 seconds left, when Walker's pass from the baseline sailed past both Gabriel and Pendleton.
Both the Greyhounds and the Griffins seemed initially content to do battle on the perimeter, with hardly a shot taken inside 15 feet.
Canisius in general and Wise in particular were sharp from three-point range, as Wise, the Griffins' leading scorer, connected for two bonus shots, with a jumper in the lane for eight of Canisius' first 13 points.
But when freshman guard Mickey Frazier hit a three-pointer with 12:22 left in the half, the Griffins' offense went south for the remainder of the period, save for Wise's seven straight free throws.