The State of Loyola Basketball

My connection to this school and this program is very strong. My mom started as a professor at Loyola shortly before I was born. She was able to get free tickets to games, and in late elementary school/early middle school right around when I started playing basketball myself I would start attending Loyola games with my Mom and Dad. The first game I ever went to was Dec 19th 2009 Howard at Loyola which was two days before Loyola went on the road and beat Indiana from the Big Ten in Assembly Hall. This unfortunately is still the biggest regular season win in my lifetime. Coincidently two days after I attended Loyola at Northwestern this year I was able to go to Assembly Hall for the first time when they were playing Howard. I remember going to a game with my Dad in January of 2010 against Marist that was on ESPNU, and in the lobby of the arena they were playing a rerun of the Indiana game on TV, and the whole campus was still buzzing, but my trip to Assembly Hall is a story for next time.
I have seen this program grow and change through the years. Experience the highs and lows. I’ve seen numerous players don the green and grey for the hounds. From Brett Harvey and Jamal Barney, to Robert Olson, Shane Walker, Erik Etherly, Dylon Cormeir and RJ Williams, to Denzil Brito, Tyler Hubbard, Franz Rasman, and SJ Touhey (yes real guy from the Blind Side), to Jarred Jones, to now Andre Walker, Cam Gregory, James Fives, Andrew Kostecka, Isiah Hart, and Brent Holcombe. The program went from bad in the MAAC to the peak of the mountaintop 2012 MAAC champions making the first NCAA tournament in my lifetime, to following that up with advancing to the quarterfinals of the 2013 CIT. The hounds changed conferences from the superior in athletics Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to the superior in academics Patriot league conference. Along with that change I have seen Jimmy Patsos the man who resurrected the program almost from the grave (1-27) season to MAAC champions leave to stay in the MAAC with rival Siena. I have seen the GG Smith era ushered in, and endured the losing seasons that followed, and the drastic rebuild. I was in the building for the return of Patsos to Reitz Arena. Even as I left and went off to college at Valparaiso I still continued to follow the hounds religiously, and I hope that the crusaders and greyhounds never have to play each other, because it would be like picking a favorite child. I have seen the team never finishing higher than a 7 seed in the patriot league tournament, and the failing to capture even one win in the patriot league tournament until this past season. I was overjoyed to find out the surprise, bid to the 2017 CBI which probably was undeserving for a team with a losing record. Then in the CBI first round upset of a 20 win A10 George Mason team with a final four banner in the rafters on the, and the sense of excitement that followed.
Which brings us to the start of this season. I knew Andre and Cam would be good, but other than that there was a lot of unknown this is a young team. I knew almost nothing about the freshman class other than what little Loyola announcer Jim Chivers had told me from seeing a practice. I was excited because this was only the second time I would ever be seeing Loyola on the road. To add to the excitement, it was opening night, and we were playing a ranked team. I’ll be perfectly honest I like most did not expect us to win this game, or really even keep it close. Loyola led after the first timeout, but then for the remainder of the first half fell behind, and at one point by 17. I assumed this would be like pretty much every other Loyola team I have seen in that when they fall behind by a lot to a superior opponent they roll over and give up. However, I was proven wrong. Not only did Loyola stand back up, but they punched Northwestern in the mouth. They chipped away at the deficit cutting it to 12, to 7, to 5, to 2, and eventually taking the lead with under four minutes to go. Almost the entire second half I was shaking probably partially from the fact that it was about 40 degrees in All State arena, and I had the idea it would be smart to wear short sleeves in a hockey arena, and partially because I was on the edge of my seat with every play. This young team was stepping up to the plate, and making plays when they needed to. In the first half I was pretty quiet not wanting to be obnoxious because I was a visiting fan, but in the second half I was yelling, clapping, and cheering as loud as I could. I even was yelling during Northwestern free-throws as they were shooting on my end. The arena was pretty much silent, and I would yell out right as the wildcats were starting their motion and releasing a booming “Go Hounds” or “Go Loyola” that could be heard all throughout the half full arena. Since Northwestern was shooting free-throws on every foul 5 minutes into the half. They took a ton of free throws. I probably yelled on 10-12, and they probably missed 8 of them, so I would like to think I directly caused a miss on three or four of them. Loyola battled, and with 22.6 seconds left they had the ball down two with the shot clock off a chance to beat a ranked team with a three, or at least send it to overtime with a two, but an untimely turn over. After a foul, and two missed free-throws by Northwestern possibly caused by yours truly Loyola had another chance with 6 seconds left down two, but they drove, and threw up a forced contested shot that was no good. It was devastating after coming up so close we had lost.
The entire drive back to northwest Indiana I was thinking what could have been if we had knocked off a ranked team. I also realize that despite the result this is a great sign. GG Smith finally has his team, and his system in place, and it is starting to show. Cam and Andre have taken huge leadership steps, and I haven’t seen a freshman class this talented ever. Hart in his first college game was guarding and locking down Bryant McIntosh Big Ten 1st team player, and Holcombe his clutch threes at the end. This Loyola team is the best team I have seen put out on the floor. Yes, I know that is a bold statement, but I think they are more athletic and possibly more talented than the 2012 tournament team. I don’t want to predict which postseason tournament they could make, or how far they might advance because it is still extremely early, but anything is on the table for this team. It has been a while since I as a Loyola fan truly felt we have a legitimate chance to compete for something going into a season, but I am happy to say I feel that way this year. Loyola basketball is back!

By: Ethan Hennessy

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