The announcement came over the PA system at the end of the Iona-Marist game that they were going to clear the MassMutual Center, as the next game between Loyola and Niagara started a new session, which required a new tickets. Alas, I bought my tickets pretty far in advance so that wasn't a problem, but they were going to clear the building and then fill it back up in 20 minutes?
Good luck, I thought.
But - I guess the benefit of a fairly sparse crowd - they were serious. Twenty minutes went up on the clock, and I walked out to get rechecked with a new ticket. I was starving, and I don't know about you, but there's only so much stadium food my body can handle, so I sprinted across the street to get a turkey sub.
I sounded a little like Rain Man as the sandwich took a little long to arrive. "Uh oh, 15 minutes to Patsos. 15 minutes to Patsos. Definitely 10 minutes to Patsos."
Alas, I can eat quickly with the best of them and got back in time for tipoff. It didn't seem to be a particularly dangerous game for Loyola, Niagara is very young (as they'll be the first to tell you, the third youngest team in the nation), Jimmy Patsos and his staff were able to scout them the night before, and the Purple Eagles had only one win of note on their resume, ironically at Loyola on Jan. 2, which you'd think would only serve to guard against the overconfident factor.
But, as Kenny Mayne used to say (whatever happened to Kenny?) games aren't played on paper, they're played inside TV sets. Or, in this case, on the computer (the MAAC Tournament, except for the final, was on ESPN3).
Loyola obviously wanted to get in the faces of the younger and smaller Niagara squad, who feature one of the top scoring freshmen in the nation in Juan'ya Green (also one of the more interesting names in college basketball). But the best laid plans don't always work out. They were calling this game tight.
Maybe they just wanted to see Patsos in action. I think by this point, Patsos gets the benefit of the doubt because the refs kind of know his act. He stormed up and down as the foul count did get a little ridiculous, especially when Anthony Winbush's foul that brought us to the first media time out was Loyola's sixth. Four seconds later, with 15:35 still on the clock, Justin Drummond's foul put Niagara into the bonus.
Patsos did his trademark maneuver at this point, racing down the bench to where the cheerleaders are, and grabbing a cup of water behind everyone. It's almost his way (like you might do to your toddler) of giving himself a time out.
It was almost like Niagara coach Joe Mahalich, with the longest current tenure in the MAAC, tried to out-Patsos Patsos at this point, getting on the refs and screaming at sophomore Marvin Jordan, "Can't you just do what the f*** I say? One time?" Alas, Jordan couldn't have been playing that poorly, he got 32 minutes off the bench.
Of course, there was a basketball game going on, too, and all this stop-start stuff didn't help the favorites. The Purple Eagles had the lead for much of the first half, and Green's layup at the buzzer tie the game at 37.
The half featured 24 fouls, but there was another number in the box score that should have set off alarms: the Greyhounds had scored 22 of their 37 points in the paint.
Patsos is known for a lot of things, being a brilliant tactician does not rank high on the list, but that might be slighting him more than a little bit. Coming out of halftime, he saw the weakness in the Niagara zone. With the refs laying off the whistle a little bit, the Purple Eagles took a quick lead. But it would be their last.
Niagara hung around, and the game was in single figures for most of the second half, but you just felt like Loyola was in control. In the end, they shot 18-of-26 from the field (5-of-7 from #superhoop land) in the second half and had a comfortable, if not easy, 86-73 win.
The Purple Eagles stand to be a threat in the coming couple of seasons in the MAAC, but March - at least in our neck of the woods - usually belongs to the veterans, the guys that had been there before.
Patsos was relatively subdued in the second half. Relatively, at least for such a huge game. He still chased some players and refs down the sideline, but was there a quiet kind of confidence coming over Jimmy Patsos? Only time would tell.
LOYOLA (MD.) 86, NIAGARA 73 03/03/2012
NIAGARA 14-19 (8-10) -- J. Green 6-18 7-11 22; A. Mason 4-11 1-2 11; M. Jordan 3-6 0-0 9; M. Lemmons 3-6 4-4 11; A. Tanksley 2-8 3-4 8; J. Thomas 4-5 1-1 9; A. Langford 0-1 0-0 0; S. Gillette 1-1 1-2 3; J. Turner 0-1 0-0 0; P. Kowalski 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-57 17-24 73. LOYOLA (MD.) 22-8 (13-5) -- S. Walker 5-7 3-4 13; D. Cormier 8-12 4-5 23; E. Etherly 8-11 5-6 21; R. Olson 3-7 1-2 9; J. Drummond 1-3 4-4 6; A. Winbush 2-2 2-4 6; R. Williams 2-3 2-2 6; J. Latham 0-1 2-2 2; J. Brooks 0-0 0-0 0; L. Wandrusch 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-46 23-29 86.
Three-point goals: NIAG 10-21 (M. Jordan 3-5; M. Lemmons 1-1; A. Mason 2-3; J. Green 3-7; A. Tanksley 1-4; J. Turner 0-1), LMD 5-10 (R. Olson 2-5; D. Cormier 3-4; J. Drummond 0-1); Rebounds: NIAG 20 (M. Lemmons 4), LMD 32 (S. Walker 12); Assists: NIAG 14 (J. Green 8), LMD 15 (R. Olson 5); Total Fouls -- NIAG 22, LMD 21; Fouled Out: NIAG-None; LMD-None.