The Greyhounds, who began playing in 1908, suffered through their worst record last season, 2-25. Yesterday at Reitz Arena, Loyola banged its way to an 80-73 victory over Fairfield that clinched its first winning season since 1986-87.
The Greyhounds take a 14-12 regular-season record into the MAAC tournament in Albany, N.Y., next weekend, accomplishing one of the biggest turnarounds this season among the 301 Division I teams.
"I think what they've done is underappreciated," said first-year coach Skip Prosser, who was asked about his preseason requirements for a successful season. "We never quantified it. We never said we'd be happy with 14 wins or 11 or three. We just tried to be a little better than the day before.
"It's quite an accomplishment for these kids. It was important for our seniors to leave Loyola with at least one winning record."
Prosser's task was made easier by the return of guard Tracy Bergan and forward Michael Reese. The two helped Loyola to a 14-14 mark two years ago, but both were absent last season -- Bergan withdrew from school and Reese chose not to challenge a suspension.
Yesterday, Bergan had game-high totals of 30 points -- including five three-pointers and nine free throws -- and six assists, and Reese gathered 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Mark Sparzak, a forward from Calvert Hall, is the Greyhounds' only other senior. He started 24 games last year, and got his
second start of the season yesterday. Sparzak's playing time dropped, but his satisfaction increased immeasurably.
"Look at all of the changes we went through," Sparzak said. "We changed benches, the floor was redone, the uniforms are a little different, but all that's cosmetic. More than anything, the attitude changed. There isn't a guy in the locker room who is satisfied. The ultimate goal is to win three more games."
Sparzak was alluding to what is necessary for Loyola to win the MAAC and claim its first berth in the NCAA tournament. Winning even one game in March has been impossible for the Greyhounds recently. Besides producing its last winning record, the 1986-87 Greyhounds were also the last Loyola team to win a postseason game. They reached the semifinals of the Northeast Conference tournament.
In Saturday's MAAC quarterfinals at the Knickerbocker Arena, Loyola (6-8 in the MAAC) will face fourth-place St. Peter's at 2 p.m.
Yesterday's game with Fairfield (8-18, 4-10), which decided fifth place, wasn't a warm and fuzzy experience for Loyola's starting seniors. Forty-eight personal fouls were called.
Both teams have stumbled down the stretch. Fairfield, which lost two starters from the team that beat Loyola by 18 in Connecticut on Jan. 27, dropped its eighth game in nine tries.
Down to eight scholarship players, Fairfield fell behind 19-5, mustering only one basket in the first six minutes against Loyola's pressure. Some poor plays by the Greyhounds allowed the Stags to stay in the game, as they whittled an 18-point deficit with 15:52 left to 61-55 with 8:52 remaining.
Loyola answered with a 10-1 run, however, and made enough free throws in the end.
Junior forward B. J. Pendleton had 15 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman forward Shannon Bowman, a leading contender for MAAC Rookie of the Year honors, led Fairfield with 19 points.