To Loyola men's basketball coach Jimmy Patsos, there's no better preparation for the rigors of a conference schedule than the intensity of early-season games against local rivals.
Judging from Wednesday's 67-51 win at Coppin State, the Greyhounds appear as ready as ever to begin defense of their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title.
Junior Dylon Cormier scored a career-high 27 points, helping Loyola overcome a three-point halftime deficit.
"We’ve been using the motto ‘All-City' all year," Cormier said. "We just beat Towson two days ago and we also got UMBC out of the way. We said if we won this game, we’re the kings of the city, so we’ve just been crowned tonight."
Loyola now stands at 7-1, tying the school record for wins in its first eight games. That includes a 12-point victory over Towson on Monday and a 16-point win over UMBC two weeks ago.
Another victory Saturday at Florida Gulf Coast would match the best start in school history, set last season.
Despite playing for the second straight game without starting forward Erik Etherly, the preseason MAAC Player of the Year, the Greyhounds took command with a surge to start the second half.
Loyola opened the half with a 13-1 run, not allowing Coppin to score a field goal for the first 5:57. Cormier rolled in a 3-pointer to extend the lead to five, and by the time Jordan Latham made a pair of foul shots with 15:45 to play, the Greyhounds led, 40-31.
"We let them dictate how we played in the first half, but in the second half we just wanted to go out and make the game ours," said Cormier, a 6-foot-2 junior out of Cardinal Gibbons. "They were beating us up with their pressure early on, but I just told the team that we had to relax and do what we do."
When guard Robert Olson scored off a give-and-go from Latham, Loyola had extended its lead to double-digits with just under 5 minutes to play. Coppin never threatened again.
The Eagles shot just 23 percent in the second half, missing all 12 of their 3-point attempts. Coppin shot 29 percent for the game, making just 3-for-27 from 3-point range.
"We couldn't hit shots and didn't play with the intensity that I wanted," Eagles coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell said. "We've got to do better, and that's embarrassing. Really embarrassing. For a while there, I thought we had quit, and I'm not used to that."
Forward Anthony Winbush, filling in for Etherly, added 12 points. Etherly, who suffered a separated right shoulder in practice Sunday, could return next week.
Michael Murray led the Eagles with 10 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth straight double-double.
For Coppin (1-5), the schedule only gets tougher, with a visit to top-ranked Indiana on Saturday kicking off a nine-game stretch that includes eight on the road, with games against Iowa and Arizona State also on the agenda.
The Eagles, who lost all five starters from a year ago, have only beaten Div. II Cheyney.
Though neither team shot well early, Coppin set the tempo early with its defense, forcing eight turnovers in the first 11 minutes. The Eagles, however, failed to take advantage, misfiring on 10 of their first 12 3-point attempts
But trailing by two late in the first half, Coppin got a big momentum boost when junior Andre Armstrong made a 3-pointer from the corner as he was fouled by Olson. He hit the foul shot for a four-point play.
When Murray followed with a jump hook in the lane, Coppin led, 24-20.
Cormier helped keep the Greyhounds close, scoring 11 points in the final 5:55 of the half. Cormier finished the half with 15 points, but Coppin led, 30-27, at the break.
"Dylon Cormier won that game tonight," Patsos said.