With nothing to play for but pride, Loyola last night turned its final regular-season game into a coming-out party.
After trailing Rider, the first-place team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, by as many as 10 early, the ninth-place Greyhounds opened the second half with a 16-2 run and never looked back, finishing off the Broncs, 77-65, to a standing ovation and chorus of "overrated" from the vocal crowd of 681 at Reitz Arena.
"It feels good to go out like that," said guard Damien Jenifer, honored prior to the game as the lone senior on a team that starts two freshmen and two sophomores. "I guess we grew up today."
Led by a career-high 26 points by freshman guard Lucious Jordan and 15 each by Jenifer and sophomore Donovan Thomas, the Greyhounds scored a season-high 49 points in the second half while shooting 64 percent from the field in winning for the second time in three games.
They also did the job inside, out-rebounding the Broncs 40-30, while grabbing 13 offensive rebounds.
"We had nothing to lose," Loyola coach Scott Hicks said. "This is huge for our confidence."
Loyola already had clinched the No. 9 seed in the upcoming MAAC tournament by virtue of Fairfield's win over St. Peter's earlier in the day. The Greyhounds (5-22 overall, 4-11 MAAC) will open against No. 8 seed Canisius on Friday (10 a.m.) in Albany, N.Y.
With an opening-round win, Loyola would again face Rider, the tournament's top seed.
Early, the game appeared similar to a 17-point loss to the Broncs last month. Rider, which had entered the game having won 10 of 11, took a 9-0 lead as Loyola missed its first nine shots and went scoreless for the first 5:12. Minutes later, following another scoring drought of 5:30, the Greyhounds found themselves down 19-9.
The Greyhounds, however, soon made a game of it, with Jordan and Jenifer combining for 11 points in the final 6:50 of the half helping Loyola cut the lead to 32-29 at halftime.
Then, playing what Hicks called their best four minutes of the season, the Greyhounds took command early in the second half, creating turnovers and sinking six of their first eight shots, including threes by Bernard Allen and Jordan, to take 44-34 lead.
Though Rider cut the lead to three on a jumper by Mario Porter with 12:52 left, Loyola quickly reestablished the lead.
"We started off very slow offensively, but we kept our poise tonight," Hicks said. "I was happy that we didn't tighten up in the second half. Rider made their run, but we remained the hunters."
"We looked distracted at times tonight," said Rider coach Don Harnum. "In this league, particularly on the road, that's a dangerous state of mind to be in."
Porter, the MAAC's preseason Player of the Year, finished with 17 points to move into second place on Rider's all-time scoring list.
RIDER-Porter 8-20 0-0 17, Reed 1-3 1-2 3, Johnson 4-10 2-2 13, Baker 6-12 0-2 13, Wicks 0-2 2-2 2, Taylor 0-1 1-2 1, Wahlmann 4-5 2-2 10, Young 2-6 0-0 6. Totals 25-59 8-12 65. LOYOLA-Thomas 5-10 5-6 15, Jordan 7-11 11-12 26, Jenifer 5-14 5-9 15, Davis 2-6 0-0 4, Chatman 0-1 0-0 0, Allen 4-6 2-2 12, Dickey 0-1 1-2 1, Southall 2-4 0-2 4, Chivers 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 25-55 24-33 77. Halftime-Rider, 32-28. 3-point goals-Rider 7-27 (Porter 1-4, Reed 0-1, Johnson 3-9, Baker 1-5, Wicks 0-1, Taylor 0-1 Young 2-6); Loyola 3-9 (Jordan 1-3, Davis 0-2, Allen 2-3, Dickey 0-1). Rebounds-Rider 30 (Porter 8); Loyola 40 (Jordan 9). Assists-Rider 11 (Porter, Johnson, Baker 3); Loyola 5 (Jenifer 4). A-681.