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Loyola Maryland men’s basketball returns favor, nips Army West Point, 81-77, for 5th win in past 6 games

The last time Loyola Maryland and Army West Point tangled in a Patriot League men’s basketball matchup, the latter rallied from a 15-point deficit and used a last-second 3-pointer from sophomore guard Josh Caldwell to pull out an 81-80 win on Jan. 18.

Wednesday night, it was the Greyhounds’ turn.

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Trailing by as many as nine points in the second half, Loyola scored the last five points in the final 14 seconds to emerge with an 81-77 victory over the visiting Black Knights before an announced 843 at Reitz Arena.

The Greyhounds won for the fifth time in their past six games and improved to 14-14 overall and 6-9 in the conference, continuing their bid to claim a top-six seed and a first-round bye in the league tournament. That they exacted a small measure of revenge against an opponent that had contributed to an eight-game losing skid in January was not lost on senior shooting guard Andrew Kostecka or coach Tavaras Hardy.

“They hit a buzzer-beater on us the last time,” said Kostecka, who paced Loyola with 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. “So it’s nice to get one back. We’re building on a winning streak.”

Added Hardy: “To fight back the way we did, especially after the fact that they fought back against us, it was a big win. Kudos to all of our players for stepping up when their moment came. They made big plays collectively, and that’s what it’s all about.”

A positive outcome seemed implausible for the first 11 minutes of the second half when Army stacked a 66-57 advantage with 9:05 remaining after senior point guard Tommy Funk hit a 3-pointer. But Loyola clawed back until it had narrowed the gap to two points at 75-73 with 1:06 left.

On an inbounds play, junior point guard Isaiah Hart passed the ball to freshman forward Santi Aldama, who was several feet behind the top of the key. Hart set a pick, which freshman shooting guard Cameron Spencer used to rub off his defender and then sink a 3-pointer from the left wing with 39 seconds remaining.

‘We ran that play multiple times, and we’ve gotten a good look out of it every time,” said Spencer, the Davidsonville resident and Boys’ Latin graduate who scored all 11 of his points in the final 20 minutes. “I knew the shot would probably be open. I just had to be confident.”

After senior center Matt Wilson hit a short jumper in the paint to give the Black Knights a 77-76 lead with 23 seconds left, Hart drove the right side of the lane and was fouled by Funk with 14 seconds remaining. Hart nailed both free throws to put the Greyhounds up, 78-77.

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Hart said that the play didn’t develop as originally drawn up.

“We were trying to get a play that we usually run to get a backdoor,” he said. “But we were discombobulated, and time was running down. I just had to make a play.”

Funk then missed a layup and fouled Loyola senior forward KaVaughn Scott, who collected the defensive rebound with 4.4 seconds left. Army coach Jimmy Allen was assessed a technical foul for rushing onto the court to protest that Funk had been fouled.

Kostecka hit both free throws, and then Scott made one of two attempts to cement the win.

Kostecka said the players stayed optimistic despite the significant hole in the second half.

“I think just trust in each other, trust in our offense,” he said of the team’s mindset. “We weren’t making shots, and they were banging threes left and right. We just kind of said to ourselves, ‘We’ve got to continue doing what we’re doing,’ and we focused. They missed a couple shots, and we started coming down and making shots.”

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The Black Knights fell to 13-13 and 8-7 in the Patriot League despite having junior shooting guard Lonnie Grayson (20 points), senior center Matt Wilson (20), Funk (17) and Caldwell (11) all end up with more than 10 points.

Kostecka and Spencer (six rebounds and three assists) were two of five players who finished in double digits in points for the Greyhounds, who also got contributions from Hart (16 points, four assists and four rebounds), Aldama (13 points and five rebounds) and Scott (12 points and 12 rebounds). The diversity in scoring was gratifying for Hardy.

“I think guys are playing with good confidence,” he said. “Our offense is designed for everybody to get opportunities, and it was exciting to finally make them.”

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