Game 032: at Loyola (Md.) 70, Canisius 68Friday, January 14, 2005
Reitz Arena - Baltimore, MD
In olden times, back when there was no Mid-Majority to be the Official anything of, the lady who would one day become the Official Wife™ and I did the commuting-couple thing the hard way. So as to save what little money we had, we'd take turns weekending in Boston or Philadelphia via the Greyhound bus. If you're willing to put up with smelly transients, other people's 3 a.m. cellphone conversations, and extended red-eye layovers at Port Authority
to keep a long-distance relationship going, you can pretty much tell it's going to be forever.
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Having a car makes everything easier, even in a city with excellent public transportation and limited street parking. You can do cool things like haul IKEA furniture, or take a sunny-day trip out to the seashore. And if you're a certain type of person, you can spend an early Friday evening driving 90 miles to a basketball game between two second-division MAAC schools.
For a sixteen year-old baller, being on the "bus team" is an honor - the varsity gets to wear nice uniforms and go play against other schools, while the J.V.'s wear mesh pullovers in games timed by a P.E. instructor's stopwatch. In college, the term is generally used in a derisive fashion. Most Division I teams roll in motorcoaches, it's true - but there are squads that are so bad that they'd be better off singing "the wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round" in unison on the way to the big Lincoln High game.
And lately, there's been no more an aptly named bus team than that of Loyola
College of Maryland. Ever since the Greyhounds shocked the Metro Atlantic in 1994 by converting a conference tournament five-seed into a Dance ticket, they haven't enjoyed a winning season. They've won a scant nine conference games this century, a figure artifically inflated by the four they won in a 2001-02 MAAC season that featured an even worse bunch of Saint Peter's
By many counts, last year's Greyhounds were among the worst of the worst teams in college basketball. They were 322nd out of 326 in the RPI, and would have completed the season without a single victory in 28 tries if not for the charity of Marist
, who was kind enough to Loyola's 31-game losing streak for them. I saw that club play three times, and I can vouch for any low rating the computers spat at them. After losing the MAAC Tournament 7-10 game against Rider
, many players exhaled with sweet relief as they untucked their jerseys and walked off the court.
The school's administration decided enough was enough, and opted not to renew coach Scott Hicks' contract when it ran out last summer. Towards the end, he would simply stand there behind the sideline with a mournful expression, shoulders slumped, conducting quiet timeout sessions when the clock said he had to. I came to spend more time during Loyola games worrying if Hicks was clinically depressed than dissecting the actual gameplay. I just hope he's happy, wherever he is and whatever he's doing.
So in came gung-ho former Maryland assistant Jimmy Patsos, slick new uniforms with black trim, vastly upgraded team facilities, and a sexy new attitude. The New Loyola served notice immediately, nearly dropping a century
on consensus MAAC pick Niagara
in their first league game of the new season. They spent December losing, but usually by a few baskets instead of 30 points.
A sizeable percentage of the fifteen hundred folks in attendance for The New Loyola's game against Canisius
last night were older alums. They streamed in from a reception room in the multipurpose building that houses the Reitz Arena. Most were couples, the men wearing suitjackets over rumpled collar-shirts and attending wives in plain dresses. Many seemed more prepared for an evening at the theater than a basketball game.
During timeouts, the Loyola band, called the Marching Flock (a/k/a "Jimmy P and the Hounds"), would launch into a rousing bang-and-shout in the upper bleachers. The alums below would dutifully turn around, politely clap at the song's conclusion and then turn back to the game action. The couple seated beside me in section 3 were quite impressed.WOMAN:
"Oh hon, I don't remember our band being that good!"MAN:
"Well, we haven't been to a game in almost a decade, honey."
Me, I was more than a little impressed with the product on the floor. While last year's bunch would amble listlessly about, The New Loyola is all about running the floor and keeping it up-tempo. My favorite Greyhound is a tall, strapping senior power forward from Minnesota named Jim Chivers, who was the only one last year who seemed visibly upset about all the losing. He's an animated, hand-clapping, let's-go kind of guy, and bears a striking resemblance to "Biff" from Back To The Future
While Biff will be making like a tree and getting out of there after this season, Patsos' first recruiting class has some rough gems. Bantamweight point guard Greg Manning (who has a little McFly in him) looks like a good future floor-leader who may eventually allow last year's pointman, Canadian Shane James, switch to off-guard. Mister James appears as if a young James Earl Jones (who was not
in the Back To The Future
trilogy - but he would have been great as Doc Brown. Just imagine JEJ intoning the phrase "1.21 jigawatts.").
As for Canisius, I've seen them twice now (I took the bus last time
) and couldn't tell you very much about them. There's a class of team that shoots decently, rebounds decently, has a lot of players who average in double figures. These teams usually hang in long enough until they're put away by a deathblow run, administered at such time that the opposition chooses to. These personality-challenged, mind-numbingly mediocre teams sometimes make me worry that I'm losing my edge as an observer, but then I get to thinking that perhaps they weren't really there to begin with. Holograms, you know?
The Greyhounds' attempt at a late run to put the Griffins out was met and matched - with 1:30 remaining, Canisius was up by two and the crowd was steeling for the disappointment of yet another Loyola loss. "Don't forget," said the P.A. announcer, trying to boost morale as best he could. "It's only January, but lacrosse tickets are now available!"
Canisius' two-point lead held until there were 13 seconds left. That when Sean Corrigan - a very large pink man who was inserted as a last-minute defensive stopgap - stepped back from behind the arc, and in excruciatingly slow motion unleashed an unguarded trey. The crowd gasped. Wives clung to husbands' arms. The band, as one, stopped milling about and putting on their matching red satin jackets. Somewhere a child was born, somewhere an old man died. And then the ball swished through the net, and Reitz Arena broke out in joyous bedlam.
One miss, one hack, one made free throw, and the buzzer sounded. The blue-clad Golden Griffins dissipated and dissolved into the ether, leaving the Greyhounds to exult in a standing ovation.WOMAN:
"Oh my, this is so exciting! I don't know whether to clap or scream!"
Give The New Loyola a couple of years, you'll probably find them in the thick of the MAAC race, enjoying success that was completely unfathomable just one short year ago. Maybe they'll break free of the ranks of the bus teams and take to the skies like a low-fare airline.
Actually, now that I think about it, The Official Wife™ and I have a few horror stories about those guys too.Photo Gallery
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