By Paul Gotham
BUFFALO, NY — The scene played out like something from Groundhog Day. The Canisius Golden Griffins getting to the basket with ease. Loyola head coach, Jimmy Patsos calling a timeout with a resulting huddle only to revisit the sequence a few minutes later.
It started with Canisius Golden Griffin guard Harold Washington chasing down a long rebound on the defensive end, pivoting and racing end-to-end for a basket. The play had an eerie CYO feel to it with Loyola Greyhounds reduced to chase mode.
Patsos did not delay in making the universal sign for a 30-second timeout. He put hands to shoulders, and the officials obliged with a whistle. The game hadn’t even reached its first media timeout, and Patsos needed to gather the troops.
It didn’t help much.
Jordan Heath nearly duplicated his brother’s play but was fouled on his attempt. Luckily for Loyola, Heath failed at the free throw line.
Seven minutes later, Jordan Heath found Chris Manhertz alone underneath the basket. The dunk resulted in another timeout.
When Billy Baron went the length of the floor and nary a Greyhound tried to take away the lane to the basket, Patsos couldn’t wait any longer. He signaled for another break in the action.
“This has been a string for us for about three, four games now where I thought we haven’t been very emotional,” Patsos said. “The MAAC is a tough, tough league.”
Somehow a 12-point halftime deficit seemed manageable, even if Patsos used four timeouts to keep the game that close.
Ten months ago, the Greyhounds claimed the MAAC title and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament capturing the attention of the media along the way. Patsos joined the CBS studio staff after Loyola fell to Ohio State. He threw out the first pitch at the Baltimore Orioles-New York Yankees game. Loyola enjoyed the spoils reserved for the victor.
The attention continued into this season. The pre-season poll tabbed the Greyhounds as the team to beat in the MAAC. Erik Etherly earned player-of-the-year honors.
Loyola made a trip to Washington to play the Huskies in early November and followed that with two games in the Hall of Fame tip-off tournament in Connecticut including a tilt with MEAC champ, Norfolk State. Loyola won six straight.
December started in Florida, returned home for the opening of MAAC play, a contest with Patriot League favorite, Bucknell and a venture to Memphis.
The schedule has taken its toll. Etherly missed five games because of injury. Last weekend, starting guard, Dylon Cormier, sat out because of food poisoning. R. J. Williams played limited minutes against Canisius because of concussion-like symptoms.
“The last couple of weeks we haven’t been quite emotional enough,” Patsos added. “It’s been a big run. We had a lot of success. We’re trying. We’re doing our best. We’re coming up a little short. Maybe we’re a little out of gas.”
Loyola nearly bottomed out against Canisius. A Billy Baron three gave the Griffs a 21-point lead midway through the second half. It looked like Canisius was on it way to a 30-point margin.
If not for the efforts of Robert Olson, it might have happened. The senior guard put bookends on a 13-0 run hitting two of four treys on the night. Olson tallied a game-high 27 on nine-of-21 shooting. He handed out five assists without committing a turnover while grabbing six rebounds and getting five steals.
“Bobby Olson is one of the toughest competitors I have ever coached,” Patsos said after the game. “I really thought he showed that tonight.”
Eventually, Loyola trimmed the margin to five. That was as close as they would get. Canisius made the plays down the stretch for a 91-79 victory.
“Since we won last year, it’s been tough,” Olson said. “Everybody is going to give us their best shot. It’s all on us. We’re just not bringing the energy.”
The loss dropped Loyola to 7-4 and a third-place tie in the MAAC. Now the Greyhounds make their way to Monteagle Ridge Saturday afternoon for a battle with first-place Niagara.
“We got to play better or we’re just going to lose,” Olson added. “All these MAAC teams are really good. Every team top to bottom brings it every night. If you don’t bring it, you’re going to lose.”
The Purple Eagles trimmed Loyola 61-60 earlier in the season. Today, Niagara looks to win their 11th straight conference game and gain a season sweep of the Greyhounds.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” Patsos said. “Everybody is gunning for us. That’s okay. I accept that.”
Tip time at the Taps Gallagher Center is 3 p.m.