In a span of less than two minutes of the second half against Iona on Sunday at Reitz Arena, Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos called three timeouts. Patsos was trying to get the Greyhounds to force the Gaels into taking tougher shots and coax his own team into playing a little harder.
Patsos was unsuccessful on both counts. Iona played with more emotion, found plenty of open looks against the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s second-best defensive team and surprised Loyola by staying with a stingy 2-3 zone defense for the entire game.
The result was a 79-71 defeat for the Greyhounds and plenty of frustration for Patsos, who was disappointed in the effort of many of his players as well as the fact that the team missed 10 of the 18 free throws it attempted.
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“For 40 minutes, they were more emotional than we were. It’s an emotional game, college basketball,” Patsos said after his team’s three-game winning streak ended. “You’re not going to beat a team with two or three guys [playing well]. We have eight guys [in the rotation], we need six, [but] we had four show up today and that’s not enough.”
Junior guard Dylon Cormier (Cardinal Gibbons), who sat out Friday’s victory at Manhattan while suffering from food poisoning, led Loyola (15-7, 7-3 in the MAAC) with 18 points on 8-for-18 shooting, but senior guard Bobby Olson (14 points) and senior forward Erik Etherly (8 points) were a combined 7-for-24.
Lamont “Momo” Jones led Iona (14-7, 8-2) with 23.
Patsos was perplexed by his team’s free throw shooting — “It’s tough for me to take [missing] free throws at home [when] there’s nobody behind [the basket] with a clap-on, clap-off thing,” he said — but was particularly angry with the fact that some of his players lacked any intensity.
“Without naming names, I have a couple of guys who don’t buy into the concept that it’s us versus them,” Patsos said. “We were playing for first place today and we didn’t want to dive on the ground for a loose ball. I take full responsibility for that, but don’t ask me to understand it.”
Iona took control from the start. The Gaels built an 11-point lead within the first eight minutes, a 13-point lead late in the first half and, after Loyola cut its deficit to six points on three different occasions in the second half, eventually stretched its lead to as many as 15, 69-54, with 5:32 remaining.
The Greyhounds closed to within five points, 71-66, on a layup by Cormier with 1:52 left, but Iona hit six of its last seven free throws to finish it out. Iona made 20 of its 25 free throws overall and shot 26 of 54 from the field, compared to 28 of 72 for Loyola.
Expecting Iona to play man-to-man, Cormier said that the Greyhounds “were definitely not ready” for the 2-3 zone.
“It was definitely difficult. Their zone defense pretty much kept us stagnant, so it kept us from getting into the flow of our man-to-man offense,” Cormier said. “They pretty much slowed us up. They rebounded and ran on us and we couldn’t do the same thing to them because they set up and scored so quickly. It definitely frustrated us. That was the reason we lost. “
The victory was only the third by the visiting team in the past 27 games of the Loyola-Iona rivalry and the first in Baltimore for the Gaels under third-year coach Tim Cluess.
“It does feel good getting a win here,” Cluess said. “They’re a really good team. Jimmy does a great job with them. They’re talented every year we’ve played. We lost a heartbreaker Year One. Last year they took put it to us early. Today we played the most solid game we’ve played here. They were picked to win the league, so we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could play with anybody on a given night.”
Patsos said that his team, after winning the MAAC tournament and advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years last season, still has something to prove.
“We’re playing good against certain teams, but the upper-echelon teams we aren’t beating because we’re not all in this together,” Patsos said. “That’s my job and it’s my fault.”