ALBANY, N.Y. -- A winning record for the first time in seven years wasn't enough. Loyola needed a postseason victory to truly break free from six years worth of miserable March memories.
The Greyhounds got the cleanser they sought yesterday, an 87-80 overtime conquest of St. Peter's in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament at the Knickerbocker Arena. It was Loyola's first postseason victory since 1987, when it was a member of the Northeast Conference.
"This is a breakthrough for us," said Skip Prosser, the first-year coach who turned a downtrodden 2-25 program into one with a 15-12 record, the second-best turnaround in the nation.
The Greyhounds had a 17-point halftime lead on Canisius at Reitz Arena on Feb. 7, only to lose by two. Loyola's inconsistent nature arose again yesterday, as it ran to a 9-2 lead in the first four minutes and had a 10-point bulge at the half, only to find itself down by 69-64 with 5:10 left.
"Coach [Prosser] told us in the timeout we had to have something in our stomach," senior forward Michael Reese said. "After the huddle, the five of us on the floor got together and said, 'We're not going to go out like this.' We weren't done."
The Greyhounds limited St. Peter's (14-13) to a single basket the rest of the way, a three-pointer by Brian Griffith that put the Peacocks on top 72-70 with 2:38 left. B. J. Pendleton's basket on a feed from Reese tied it with 1:12 left, and both teams missed chances at winning in regulation.
In overtime, everyone simply got out of Reese's way. The 6-foot-8 senior forward personally outscored St. Peter's, 9-8.
He hit a three-pointer from the top of the key with 15 seconds gone, then drove the baseline for a reverse dunk that finished with him getting a technical for hanging on the rim. A second-team all-conference selection despite being No. 2 in the MAAC in scoring (20.0) and rebounding (8.4), Reese threw down one last monster dunk with 24 seconds left, opening an 85-80 lead and opening the floodgates on the years of frustration that ++ had been pent up in the Greyhounds.
Reese finished with 25 points -- he made all three of his three-pointers -- and eight rebounds. Senior point guard Tracy Bergan, the other Greyhound whose absence in 1992-93 led to the worst record in school history, had 21 points on four three-pointers and 10 assists.
Junior guard Matt Gabriel was another key contributor. Gabriel, 6-2, had five defensive rebounds in the last 25 minutes as the Greyhounds countered St. Peter's three-guard set. He pushed the last one upcourt and turned it into Reese's clinching dunk.
"We have to go back to the hotel and watch tape, but I'm glad
we're not going home," Bergan said.
Yesterday's win ended a six-game postseason tournament losing streak for Loyola:
Year .. .. ..Opponent .. .. .. .. ..Score
1993 .. .. ..Manhattan .. .. .. .. .57-37
1992 .. .. .. .Iona .. .. .. .. .. .59-53
1991 .. .. ..La Salle .. .. .. .. ..86-70
1990 .. .. ...Fordham .. ... .. .. .81-69
1989 .. .. .Long Island .. .. .. ...79-66
1988 .. .. .Long Island .. .. .. ...99-90