Has any basketball team in the nation improved more in the last five weeks than Loyola?
The Greyhounds were physically and emotionally beat up after their first game with St. Peter's, when a 15-point loss in Jersey City on Jan. 12 gave Loyola a 2-10 overall record and residence in the basement of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Last night at Reitz Arena, the Greyhounds gained revenge on the Peacocks with a 60-49 victory that moved them into a second-place tie in the MAAC with Canisius. It was Loyola's fourth straight win and the 10th in its past 13 games, but after that first meeting with St. Peter's, there were doubts that a turnaround was afoot.
"I don't want to talk about what we were thinking then," said Anthony Smith, a senior forward. "There was a lot of anger, a lot of confusion. We didn't know where we were going."
Brian Ellerbe, the Greyhounds' third-year coach, said he headed someplace he never goes -- to the back of the bus.
"Things couldn't have gotten any worse," Ellerbe said. "We were at the height of our injuries, we were playing on the road, against a physical team. We were so bad, it was funny, but I wanted to make sure the players understood all that we had been through. I sat in the back seat the whole trip home, and just talked to them."
A seven-man rotation that includes three freshmen and a sophomore persevered through an early-season rash of injuries tTC and a steady diet of road games. Now, a win over last-place Fairfield tomorrow would give Loyola (12-13, 9-4) no worse than the third seed for the MAAC tournament in Buffalo, N.Y., next weekend.
Besides winning a showdown for third place with St. Peter's (11-14, 8-5), the Greyhounds also scored in the race for MAAC Rookie of the Year. Sublime freshman point guard Jason Rowe had game highs of 20 points and three assists. St. Peter's Ricky Bellinger, Rowe's competition for Rookie of the Year, was held to six points on 3-for-15 shooting.
The 49 points were the fewest allowed by Loyola in five years, but Ellerbe wasn't overly impressed. Gritty defensive work has been a constant during Loyola's late-season surge. Besides, St. Peter's couldn't even shoot when it was unguarded. The Peacocks made only eight of 22 free throws.
It was the fourth time in the past seven games that Rowe has led the Greyhounds in scoring. He made five of seven shots in the first half, when his teammates were a combined 5-for-18. Senior Mike Powell dribbled through traffic and his legs to set up an open three-pointer for Rowe.
St. Peter's trailed 35-34 with 10: 43 left, but the Peacocks went the next five minutes without a basket during a 14-1 Greyhounds spurt. It included a pair of three-pointers by Darren Kelly, a freshman forward who had 13 points off the bench. Sophomore center Roderick Platt had 12 rebounds, and Smith had 10 points and five blocks.
Pub Date: 2/22/97