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Andrew Kostecka’s career-high 37 points ignite Loyola Maryland men’s basketball to 80-70 win over Holy Cross

Tavaras Hardy kicked off the new year with something he had not enjoyed before: a win in a Patriot League opener.

Hardy is in only his second season as the coach of the Loyola Maryland men’s basketball program, but Thursday night’s 80-70 victory over visiting Holy Cross before an announced 420 at Reitz Arena was a welcomed departure from almost a year ago when the Crusaders left Baltimore with an 80-73 win.

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“We lost three in a row last year to start,” Hardy recalled, alluding to setbacks at Lehigh and Lafayette before edging Army West Point. “So it feels good, but as I told these guys, you can’t let your high get too high and your lows get too low. It’s nice to get this win, but now we’ve got to go on the road and play two in a row [Lehigh on Sunday and Colgate on Wednesday]. So it’s one game at a time. But I’m happy we’re progressing.”

Not only did the Greyhounds begin their conference schedule with a victory for the fourth time in the past five seasons, but they also improved to 9-5 for the first time since the 2012-13 squad also won nine times in its first 14 games. They won for the sixth time in the past seven games with the only hiccup occurring in an 85-51 rout at VCU on Sunday.

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Loyola leaned heavily on senior Andrew Kostecka, who scored a career-high 37 points and became the 10th player in program history to reach 1,500 career points. The 6-foot-3, 189-pound guard connected on 15 shots, three of which came from behind the 3-point line. Meanwhile, his teammates combined for 14 field goals and two 3-pointers.

“I was just feeling it,” said Kostecka, who added three steals and two rebounds. “I think everyone has those nights when the shots just fall. But I have to give credit to my teammates. They found me when I was open, and I was able to knock them down.”

Kostecka was complemented by junior point guard Isaiah Hart’s 15 points and five assists and freshman guard Cam Spencer’s 11 points, four rebounds and three assists. But Hardy acknowledged that Kostecka seized the reins as the offense’s primary initiator.

“Our offense is equal opportunity, but the cream rises to the top, and the guys that can do a lot of good things do that,” Hardy said. “He was getting to the basket, he made threes, he got to the foul line. It was a lot of different ways to score.”

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But the victory wasn’t easy. Loyola trailed by as much as 11 points in the first half after a reverse layup by junior guard Austin Butler capped a 14-0 run that gave the Crusaders an 18-7 advantage with 12:06 remaining.

The Greyhounds embarked on a 13-5 burst of their own before Holy Cross responded with a 7-4 spurt to lead, 30-24, with 4:54 left. Loyola then closed out the half by scoring 14 of the last 23 points to trail, 39-38, at the break.

“That was definitely big for our morale, to be down by 11 and then to cut it back to one at halftime,” Kostecka said. “We kind of got our momentum back. We banged in some shots and got some stops on defense. We used that momentum in the second half as well.”

The Crusaders opened the second half with four points, but the Greyhounds replied with seven consecutive points for their first lead of the game since 7-6 at the 15:04 mark of the first half.

The two sides then exchanged leads before Loyola used a 7-4 spurt that gave it a 60-56 advantage it would not give up.

“Our guys started playing aggressively, and obviously with Drew and what he brings to the table and his ability to explode and get buckets, he was able to get points for us,” Hardy said of the team’s second-half adjustments. “And defensively, we threw a mix of defenses, and I think it bothered them. I think our zone defense really hurt them.”

Freshman forward Joe Pridgen paced Holy Cross with 26 points and four assists, and freshman guard Drew Louder chipped in 17 points, four rebounds and three assists. But the Crusaders (1-13, 0-1 Patriot League) dropped their sixth game in a row.

Loyola Maryland@Lehigh

Sunday, 2 p.m.

Video: Patriot League Network

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