Dream season comes to an end for Loyola

PITTSBURGH -- Jimmy Patsos pointed to the white board in his team's dressing room at the Consol Energy Center on Thursday night, the names of the Ohio State players scrawled in red marker, their stats in black. He came to the names of sophomore forwards Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas.

"That sucker's good," the Loyola coach said about Sullinger, the National Player of the Year as a freshman.

He turned to junior forward Erik Etherly in talking about Thomas.

"That guy's really good getting to the offensive glass," Patsos said. "He's really good. There's only one problem he has. He's not better than you. He's the same guy as you. He's 6-7, left-hander, shoots a little jump shot. You're covering yourself. Your dream matchup!"

The dream was certainly not a nightmare for Etherly and Loyola in the school's first NCAA tournament appearance in 18 years, but a 78-59 loss did not turn into fantasy or history for the Greyhounds in their quest to become the fifth No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 seed since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams.

"We came into the game just looking at it as though all the pressure was on them," Etherly said afterward, his red-rimmed eyes belying his words. "There is no pressure on us. They're supposed to win that game. Go in there with nothing to lose."

Etherly certainly held his own for a while -- finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds and four first-half blocks – but the 6-7, 225-pound Thomas took over the game in stretches after the Greyhounds started off paying so much attention to the 6-9, 280-pound Sullinger.

Thomas turned out to be the most difficult matchup, scoring a career-high 31 points, 13 in a row in one stretch during the second half, and pulling down 12 rebounds. Along with Sullinger, who scored all 12 of his points in the first half to go along with 11 rebounds and five blocked shots, it helped Ohio State (28-7) advance to a third-round matchup Saturday with Gonzaga.

Despite Patsos' talking all week about how important it was to keep up with the bigger, stronger Buckeyes on the boards, the Greyhounds got manhandled in that department, nearly being doubled (49-24) in rebounds overall and more than tripled on the offensive glass (16-5).

"I thought we played really hard, which is what we do at Loyola University," said Patsos, 45, finishing his eighth season at Loyola as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's Coach of the Year. "We set a school record for wins.

"We're not just growing as a program, the league is growing. To play Ohio State, one of the best teams in the country, you're not going to win that game without having everything go right. We didn't have everything go right. We played hard and competed and the guys had a great experience."

Patsos acknowledged that his young team got a little too excited at the start. Though it translated into Loyola's scoring five of the game's first six points, it also resulted in freshman point guard R.J. Williams (St. Frances) picking up two fouls less than two minutes into the game. Williams ended up fouling out, as did sophomore guard Justin Drummond.

"I wanted to play so bad, my emotions got to me and I just started fouling," Williams said. "[But] I'm happy for my team. We played hard, all the hard work we put in, we tried to throw it out there. But it was a great team and we just tried to leave it all on the floor."

Trailing by six with a little under nine minutes left in the half, the Greyhounds found themselves down by as many as 15 points before cutting their deficit to 10 late in the half. Behind 42-31 at the break, Loyola fell behind by as many as 20, 70-50, but scored nine straight points and cut its deficit back to 11 with a little under six minutes left. Ohio State coach Thad Matta put three starters, including Thomas and Sullinger, back into the game with 2:18 remaining.

As the Greyhounds gambled with the run-and-jump defense Patsos learned during his 14 seasons as an assistant under Gary Williams at Maryland, the Buckeyes were able to find Thomas inside as well as a few open looks on the perimeter. The deficit grew, but it didn't diminish the spirit and spunk Loyola showed.

"They did a great job of finding Thomas because [Ohio State assistant and former Maryland assistant] Dave Dickerson knew who I was going to run and jump with because that's what we did at Maryland 20 years ago," Patsos said. "It was a cool game to play. We needed to get to six or seven, and we couldn't."

Sophomore guard Dylon Cormier (Cardinal Gibbons) said that the first few minutes of the second half were the difference.

"We tried to get out after halftime to break the lead down a little smaller," said Cormier, who finished with 14 points. "They had the better hand. They executed well and extended the lead."

The defeat ended Loyola's most successful season as a Division I team at 24-9. The Greyhounds lose only senior center Shane Walker from this year's team and will likely go into next season as the team to beat in the conference.

"I think this is only the beginning," Cormier said.

In the locker room before the game, Patsos told his team that the key to the game was rebounding and that aside from Sullinger, "they're no different from you." He told them to recall the summer games at The Dome in Baltimore and Barry Farms in Washington.

"If you win, you're in; if you lose, you're out," Patsos said.

He pulled a small button out of his coat pocket. It was from the Andy Warhol Museum, which the Greyhounds had visited earlier in the day. It had a picture of the pop culture icon with the words, "Your 15 minutes of fame are up."

It was a way to inspire the Greyhounds, and for a while it worked. But then reality – not some NCAA tournament Cinderella fantasy or the kind of upset Baltimore neighbor Coppin State pulled off against No. 2 seed South Carolina here 15 years ago – took over.

That guy Warhol must have known something.

So did DeShaun Thomas, whose fame will last a little more than 15 minutes. don.markus@baltsun.com

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