The more Loyola coach Brian Ellerbe sees of his team these days, the more he believes it is growing up. And the better he feels about its chances in the postseason -- even after a loss.
The Greyhounds battled Canisius to the wire last night, getting a career-high 34 points from sophomore guard Mike Powell before falling short, 72-67, in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game before 1,905 at Reitz Arena.
Powell and junior forward Anthony Smith (17 points) accounted for the bulk of Loyola's scoring, and it was nearly enough to overcome foul trouble and the absence of starting center Roderick Platt, who is done for the season because of a knee injury.
The game was tied with 5:29 left, and Loyola got within one point in the last minute. But Canisius made the plays, and its free throws, down the stretch to secure its fifth win in a row.
"I feel bad for our players right now, but this is a good basketball team we lost to," Ellerbe said. "This time of year, you want to be one of those teams that's still getting better."
Freshman center Duane Johnson and freshman forward Nsilo Abraham each had four fouls early in the second half, but the Greyhounds (8-11, 5-3) wouldn't fold. They led for the last time at 56-55 on Powell's free throw with 7:10 left, and Smith's dunk cut the Golden Griffins' lead to 65-64.
Then came perhaps the biggest play of the night. Junior center Ryan Collins scored inside and drew the foul from Johnson with 50 seconds left. It was his only basket of the second half, but the three-point play extended the Griffins' lead to 68-64.
Canisius (14-6, 6-3) was led by senior forward Darrell Barley with 25 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore guard Kevin Thompson scored 14 his career-high 17 in the second half, including a three-pointer and a baseline jumper down the stretch.
Powell kept finding the smallest openings to penetrate Canisius' defense, and scored the most points by a Loyola player since Kevin Green had 39 in a four-overtime loss at Niagara in February 1991.
Even so, some of the more memorable moments were provided by Smith. He ran down Barley and blocked an attempted dunk, and later soared over Thompson for a one-handed jam that pulled the teams even at 58 with 5:29 left.
Said Canisius coach John Beilein, "You can see why they were recruited at a higher level than the MAAC, and that's why I see a bright future for Loyola."
NOTE: Loyola freshman forward Blanchard Hurd (Milford Mill), a starter at the beginning of the season, will be medically redshirted because of a knee injury.