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'It’s hard’: Loyola Maryland men’s basketball still searching for answers after 6th straight loss

Another game, another loss in heartbreaking fashion for the Loyola Maryland men’s basketball program.

Four days after squandering a 15-point lead in the second half in a one-point loss at Army West Point, the Greyhounds rallied from an eight-point deficit in the second half against American and sent the game into overtime. But senior point guard Sa’eed Nelson made two of three free throws with 0.3 of a second left in the extra frame to help the visiting Eagles escape Reitz Arena with a 93-91 win before an announced 724 on Wednesday night.

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Loyola, which fell to 9-11 overall and 1-6 in the Patriot League after dropping its sixth consecutive game, last won Jan. 2, when it defeated Holy Cross, 80-70, in the conference opener for both sides.

Wednesday’s setback was the third frustrating loss in the past four games for the Greyhounds, who played without a pair of freshmen in guard Cam Spencer (hip) and forward Santi Aldama (knee surgery). They fell, 65-62, against Lafayette at home on Jan. 11 and 81-80 at Army West Point on Saturday. The latter occurred on a Black Knights 3-pointer with one second left.

“It’s hard,” coach Tavaras Hardy said. “Our guys battled tonight. No excuses. We all know we’re beat up, but we fought. We’ve got to keep working and improve in certain areas. But the fight was there unlike our last home game [an 85-53 loss to Boston University on Jan. 13]. This group is learning to play with different lineups and different guys, and that’s what the first step is all about. So I’m pleased with that. The result is not what we wanted, but we understand that we took a good step.”

Loyola senior guard Andrew Kostecka led all scorers with 32 points and added four rebounds and three assists, but fouled out with 3:55 left in overtime. Sophomore guard Jaylin Andrews scored a career-high 25 points, collected seven rebounds, and made four steals, but the Owings Mills resident and Boys’ Latin graduate did not take much solace from his performance.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing is a win if we want to get where we want to be, and that’s the [NCAA] tournament,” he said. “It can be anybody’s night on any day, and I promise you that they would want a win more than scoring a career high, too.”

Trailing 63-56 with 12:14 left in the second half, the Greyhounds clawed back into contention and used a long 3-pointer from the left elbow by Kostecka with seven seconds left to tie the score at 84 and send the game into overtime. Kostecka opened the extra period with a dunk off the opening tip, but after junior point guard Isaiah Hart came up with a defensive rebound, his pass to Kostecka was intercepted by junior guard Stacy Beckton Jr., who was promptly fouled by Kostecka.

With the score tied at 91, Eagles sophomore forward Connor Nelson stole the ball, which eventually found its way to Sa’eed Nelson, who was fouled several feet behind the 3-point line by senior forward KaVaughn Scott with 0.3 of a second left.

Nelson made the first two of three free throws, and Andrews’ last-second heave missed its target. Hardy did not disagree with the foul call on Scott.

“We definitely fouled. I knew it as it happened,” Hardy said. “We teach our guys to jump straight up and not to lunge forward in that situation. There’s no reason to try to block that shot. He’s going to shoot a shot that he’s not capable of making, and if he banks it in, so be it. But you’ve got to give yourselves a chance there. It’s something we talked about, and we just didn’t execute.”

Andrews did not sound worried about his teammates being exasperated by the lack of success.

“We fought in the game, but it just wasn’t the result we wanted,” he said. “We’ve got to keep coming together and try to find a way to get the result we want at the end of the day.”

Sa’eed Nelson finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for American (9-9, 5-2), who won for the fifth time in their past six games. Senior center Mark Gasperini had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Connor Nelson contributed 16 points, five assists and three steals. The Eagles had three more players finish with at least 10 points.

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