One win rarely defines a season, but the Loyola Maryland men’s basketball team might remember Sunday afternoon for a while.
The Greyhounds got off to a quick start, never trailed, and held on for an 84-80 upset of Patriot League-leading Colgate before an announced 1,004 at Reitz Arena.
At 13-14 overall and 5-9 in the conference, Loyola — winner of four of its past five — is just two games behind Navy, which sits in sixth place. That distinction is significant because the top six teams will earn a first-round bye in the Patriot League tournament, which begins March 3.
With four games left in the regular season against Army West Point (13-12, 8-6), Lafayette (16-9, 8-6), the Midshipmen (13-12, 7-7) and Lehigh (7-19, 4-10), the Greyhounds can make a push to avoid a first-round matchup and forge a path to the tournament quarterfinals.
Still, coach Tavaras Hardy tried to downplay any attempt to look ahead to potential seeding, insisting that the team is still trying to build chemistry with freshmen Santi Aldama and Cameron Spencer recently returning from prolonged injuries.
“We try not to talk about the seeding,” he said. “We mentioned it a couple times in a staff meeting, but Cam has missed nine games and Santi hasn’t played all year pretty much. It’s not just about them, but the others have got to figure out their game with these guys. So every game and every practice is important for us. It’s almost like preseason. If you can win those games as you prepare, that’s obviously icing on the cake. For us, it’s all development right now.”
The return of Aldama from preseason knee surgery and Spencer from a hip injury has given Hardy the ability to regularly play eight guys and possibly nine or 10. That depth could be pivotal, according to Spencer.
“I think we’ve become a deeper team,” he said. “We can play up to nine or 10 guys, and everybody’s out there giving it their best effort.”
Aldama and Spencer were especially critical against the Raiders. Aldama, the 6-foot-11, 215-pound forward from Spain, scored 13 of his team-high 22 points in the first half (including shooting 3-for-5 from 3-point range) and added three rebounds, three assists and one block in the first 20 minutes en route to finishing with eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
“I just think I was focused on the right stuff,” he said of his performance. “I wasn’t trying to think about my shot or anything. So I think that helped. I just felt like I let it fly. I wasn’t overthinking anything.”
Spencer scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half (shooting 4-for-6 behind the arc) and chipped in four assists and three rebounds. The freshman pair were two of five players who finished with double digits in points, joining junior point guard Isaiah Hart (13 points and three assists), senior shooting guard Andrew Kostecka (12 points and six assists) and senior forward KaVaughn Scott (12 points and five rebounds).
Spencer’s final assist was an inbounds heave downcourt to Kostecka for a fastbreak dunk with one second left to cement the victory.
Still, there is plenty for Loyola to scrutinize. The players missed 12 of 29 free-throw attempts, including nine of 14 in the final 2:24. And the Raiders (20-7, 11-3) pounded the glass for 19 offensive rebounds that they turned into 19 second-chance points. They had four players total more than 10 points, led by senior forward Will Rayman (a game-best 27, seven rebounds and three assists).
“They’re pretty tough,” Aldama said of Colgate’s prowess at rebounding. “They were just going really hard. So I think we’ve just got to be tougher sometimes.”
The Greyhounds can look forward to a head-to-head tilt with Navy on Feb. 26 and seek some measure of revenge after a one-point loss to Army, a three-point setback to Lafayette, and a seven-point loss to Lehigh. The redemption tour begins Wednesday when the Black Knights visit, which is Hardy’s top priority.
“For us, every game down the stretch, every game in the Patriot League is always going to be tough,” he said. “We’ve got Army coming in, and they’ve been playing great ball. I think they ran off five or six straight after they beat us. So we’ve got to go about that game the way we would regardless of what the future holds. They beat us by one point, and as competitors, we want to get them back. So that’s what we want as our mentality, a one-game-at-a-time mentality. We’re going to go into Army and try to get the win.”
ARMY WEST POINT@LOYOLA MARYLAND
Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Video: Patriot League Network