By James Fox
The Greyhounds saw their double-digit second-half lead evaporate, and Loyola basketball appeared on its way to an 0-3 start in conference play on Wednesday night at Reitz Arena. But senior Denzel Brito hit the game-tying layup with 3.3 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, and the Greyhounds went on to knock off defending Patriot League champion American University, 56-53, for their first league win.
Loyola, which improved to 5-9 on the year, led for almost the entire game, and twice held a 10-point lead. After a layup by freshman Chancellor Barnard gave the Greyhounds a 43-33 lead with 6:42 left in regulation, the Eagles stormed back with a 13-2 run to jump ahead.
After a missed layup by Brito, American’s Pee Wee Gardner was fouled with 14 seconds left, but Gardner made just one of his two free throw attempts, setting the stage for Brito’s game-tying bucket. Gardner then launched a half-court shot at the buzzer that grazed the front of the rim and the teams headed into overtime.
Loyola junior Eric Laster scored with the first five points of the overtime frame, hitting two free throws in the first minute before converting a game-changing three-point play with 2:11 remaining. The junior grabbed an offensive rebounds and was fouled on the put-back before hitting the free throw, to give the Hounds a 52-47 lead.
Gardner hit a pair of free throws for American to cut Loyola’s lead to 52-50 with just over a minute to play, but Loyola freshman Andre Walker sank two free throws with 36 seconds remaining and the Eagles failed to respond after that.
Brito proved to be the hero for the Hounds, even after missing the layup 11 seconds prior to his tying basket.
“I was a little upset with myself for the play before when I missed an easy one, but we came down confident and executed,” Brito said.
The Greyhounds came out firing against the defending Patriot League champs and preseason favorites. Loyola scored its first nine points on 3-pointers (two by Brito and one by junior Franz Rassman) in the game’s first five minutes.
Loyola led 18-8 with 8:21 left in the first half, but American fought back to close the half, including a jumper by Jesse Reed that beat the buzzer right before halftime.
Brito led the Greyhounds with 11 points, along with six rebounds, four steals and three assists. Loyola has been playing without junior Jared Jones, who led all returning players in scoring a season ago. Jones will likely remaining out the rest of the season with a wrist injury, according to a report by the Baltimore Sun’s Edward Lee.
Gardner and John Schoof each scored 15 points to lead American. Both teams entered the game ranked in the bottom-five in the nation in scoring.
“This was a big win for us,” Loyola coach G.G. Smith said. “It was a desperate time, but not a panic time. We couldn’t fall to 0-3. [0-3] is a lot different than 1-2, and our guys played with that attitude. They played with toughness and made some plays at the end.”
The Greyhounds and will try to pull to .500 in Patriot League play on Saturday when they travel to Lehigh.