Less than 24 hours after winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament and securing its first NCAA tournament berth since 1994, the Loyola men's basketball team arrived at BWI-Marshall Airport this morning looking tired and happy following its 48-44 win over Fairfield on Monday night.
Shane Walker, Loyola's senior big man who sank a free throw with less than five seconds to go to seal the win, walked off the plane with the gleaming gold MAAC 2012 championship trophy.
"It's been hard to get it away from me," Walker said of the trophy. "We strapped it in with a seat belt — it had its own seat and everything. We're going to take good care of this."
Jimmy Patsos, now in his eighth season as the Greyhounds' coach, credited second-seeded Loyola's pressure defense as a big reason for the win.
"I kept hearing Gary Williams saying pressure defense is good 'cause it keeps wearing [the other team] down as the game goes on," said Patsos, a long-time assistant to Williams, the former Maryland coach.
"But I also heard him say: 'You guys are jittery, nervous and pressure defense takes that away 'cause you're too busy pressing and running to worry about, gee, is my guy gonna shoot or should I make the next shot?'"
Loyola (24-8) turned up its defensive intensity in the second half against fourth-seeded Fairfield (19-14). The Greyhounds held Fairfield scoreless for the first eight minutes and limited the Stags to just 14 points the rest of the way.
"You look at the final score, it looks more like a halftime score," Walker said. "But it was a great game for TV and a great game for Loyola."
Speaking of Loyola's second-half defense, which held Fairfield to just 19.4 percent shooting, Walker said: "During the game, you don't really notice it. After the game, all the statistics come up and that's when you celebrate it."
Forward Erik Etherly, in foul trouble early in the game, led the Greyhounds with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. He was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Guard Robert Olson chipped in with seven points.
Patsos said the 'Hounds would now look forward to Selection Sunday to learn who their opponent would be in the first round of the NCAA tournament, even if they were relegated to one of the play-in games.
"It's fine, doesn't matter to me," he said. "As long as we're in the tournament."
It was Loyola's first MAAC championship since 1994.