Loyola has been to the NCAA tournament once — in 1994 under Skip Prosser. Eighteen years later, it finally has a realistic shot to go back.
For the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Greyhounds continued to be almost perfect. The margin was 71-48 with a little more than 10 minutes remaining. It looked like the game would end with walk-ons playing out the string.
Except that when you’re Sisyphus, it doesn’t work that way. Iona finally began to make some shots. Loyola stopped attacking and started playing to run out the clock. The lead melted. It was 10, then it was seven. It went back to 10 and then, with 1 minute 7 seconds left, Iona guard Scott Armand hit two free throws and it was 82-77.
Machado — who would finish with three field goals, seven points and the NBA scouts long gone — finally made a layup to cut it to 83-79. But Loyola junior guard Robert Olson, whom Patsos describes as his toughest kid, made two free throws, Armand missed a three-pointer and the final was 87-81.
The rock was finally up the mountain — for now.
“We gotta get Fairfield on Sunday,” Patsos said about five minutes after his biggest victory at Loyola was complete. “We can’t let down.”
“Can’t you enjoy this for, I don’t know, 30 seconds?” asked Jim Paquette, Loyola’s athletic director.
Patsos shook his head: “No. Can’t afford to.”
Moments earlier, the Rev. Brian Linnane, Loyola’s president, had given the postgame talk instead of Patsos. His speech was a bit milder than what the players are accustomed to, but when they gathered in their circle for the traditional postgame reminder about the next opponent, Patsos asked Linnane to take the lead.
“Beat Fairfield!” Linnane yelled. “I hate them!”
That certainly got the players’ attention. Linnane was smiling when he finished. “Big night for all of us, I guess,” he said.
It certainly was big for the players who have endured the emotional roller coaster of Life With Jimmy, and massively important for their coach. There is still a lot left to do: hated Fairfield on Sunday and then road games at Marist, Rider and, perhaps most problematic, Manhattan to close the regular season. The one-game lead on Iona is delicate at best.
But for one moment on Friday, when the buzzer finally sounded, there was nothing for Patsos to do except celebrate. It was a sweet sight on a rainy night in North Baltimore.
For John Feinstein’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/feinstein. For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.