With his Loyola-Maryland team trailing by four points at halftime of the MAAC title game, coach Jimmy Patsos decided to give his players a history lesson with a halftime speech about Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party.
”I said there are levels; there’s Martin Luther King; there’s Malcolm X; and I saved Bobby Seale for the end,” Patsos said. ”Sometimes you have to get militant, and we’re getting militant young men.”
The Greyhounds responded with an 11-1 run to open the second half and went on to a 48-44 win over Fairfield. The win gave the program its second berth in an NCAA tournament. The first came in 1994, coached by the late Skip Prosser.
Erik Etherly had 10 points and seven rebounds to lead Loyola (24-8), which is having its best season as a Division I program.
Loyola went into a pressing defense and held Fairfield without a point for almost 8 minutes to open the second half, then held on for its fifth win in six games.
”I said, `We are going to take it up a notch and we are going to press on every make,”’ Patsos said. ”We are going full force. It’s time. Not that there is anything wrong with pacifism or middle-of-the-road intellectualism, but I said, `It’s time for anger.”’
Loyola shot just 33 percent, but held Fairfield to 29 percent and just six second-half field goals.
Rakim Sanders scored 12 points and Ryan Olander had 11 for Fairfield (19-14), which upset the tournament’s top seed, Iona, in Sunday’s semifinals. Maurice Barrow added 10 points and 13 rebounds in the losing effort.
Fairfield missed its first 13 shots after intermission and went 7:48 without a point, before a foul shot by Desmond Wade. A jump shot by Etherly capped Loyola’s run and gave the Greyhounds a 37-31 lead.
Colin Nickerson broke the Fairfield field-goal drought with a layup, but a 3-point play by Jordan Lathem stretched the lead back to seven.
”We held Loyola to 48 points and you figure in a Division I basketball game you’re going to win that game,” said Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson. ”But they one-upped us.”
It was 47-41 when Wade hit a fall-away 3-pointer to cut the Greyhound lead to just three points with just more than 2 1/2 minutes left. Fairfield had several chances to tie the game, but missed three 3s in the last minute.
Shane Walker’s foul shot gave the Greyhounds their final margin of victory.
Etherly, who scored 21 points in each of Loyola’s first two tournament games, picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of this one. He didn’t have another one all game.
”I stopped going for the pump fakes,” he said.
Loyola used a 10-2 run to go up 16-9 midway through the first half.
Fairfield responded with a 7-0 run to tie the game as the Stags had success going inside. An assist, a blocked, shot and two free throws from Olander put Fairfield up 23-20, and his 3-pointer and another blocked shot helped send the Stags into the half up 30-26.
The Stags scored just 14 points after halftime.
The teams split their regular-season meetings, each winning on the other’s home floor – Loyola by three points in Bridgeport on Jan. 13 and the Stags beat the Greyhounds 68-51 in Maryland on Feb. 12.
That was one of three losses in the Stags’ final four regular-season games. But Fairfield came alive during the tournament, avenging a regular season-ending loss to Rider in the opening round, and stunning top-seeded Iona by 10 points in Sunday’s semifinals.
Fairfield has been playing without its starting point guard, Derek Needham, who broke his left foot on Feb. 24 in a loss at Iona, and Wade, the backup, picked up his third foul early in the second half.
Loyola, the tournament’s second seed, breezed through their first two games in the tournament, beating Niagara by 13 points and Siena by 10. This was the just the Greyhounds’ second trip to the conference finals. They beat Manhattan in the 1994 championship game.
The Greyhounds are just one win from tying the school record for victories in a season, set back in 1948-49. This is their first 20-win campaign as a Division I program.
”We want to be great,” senior Shane Walker said. ”We didn’t want to just be good. We didn’t want to just win 20 games. We actually wanted to get to the NCAA tournament and be one of the best teams to every play at Loyola.”
Fairfield, which was playing in its seventh conference championship game, has not been to the NCAA tournament since winning the MAAC title in 1997. Fairfield’s women lost earlier in the day to Marist in the women’s conference final.