Men’s basketball takes season series against Loyola Maryland with comeback win

Nash Lovallo

The men’s basketball team split a pair of games with Loyola Maryland this past week, losing 75-62 in Baltimore on Sunday, Feb. 7, before coming back to win 80-76 at home on Monday, Feb. 8, to clinch the season series against the Greyhounds. 

The team now sits at 6-4 on the season with just six games left to play. 

On Sunday, after two weeks without a game due to Covid-19 postponements, the Leopards were able to hold control through the end of the first half and early on in the second. Cold shooting spurts in the second half, however, allowed the Greyhounds to gain a decisive lead late in the fourth. 

Lafayette again struggled offensively on Sunday, with their second straight game of shooting less than 37 percent from the field. The Leopards connected on just 22 of 60 shots from the floor. Loyola came into Sunday’s game 0-5 and made it clear that they were determined to flip the switch against Lafayette. The Greyhounds shot 45 percent from behind the arc and 92 percent from the free throw line in the second half, giving them their first win of the season behind a balanced offensive showing. 

Senior co-captain Justin Jaworski, who scored 12 points in the game, noted that the Leopards lacked their usual preparation for Loyola after several last-minute schedule adjustments, all due to Covid-related postponements. 

“[The] team didn’t exactly prepare for Loyola, [they] actually were prepared to play American up until Friday,” Jaworski said. Given the pandemic, there are a lot of uncertainties this year in college basketball. 

After the Leopards led by five at the half, Loyola surged back late in the second to tie the game at 50 with nine minutes remaining, before dominating the final stretch of the half. The Greyhounds gradually increased their advantage to 10 with less than two minutes to play, and made their final free throws to close out the game with a 13-point win. 

“After the first loss we knew we had to be tougher. Better defense, more rebounds, less open shots for them,” said senior co-captain E.J. Stephens, who was a bright spot on offense with a team-high 18 points on 7-18 shooting from the field.

Lafayette was out-rebounded by Loyola 42-31 in the loss, with the Greyhounds scoring more points in the paint as well. The Leopards flipped the script on Monday with a slim 36-35 advantage on the glass. Jaworski said that Lafayette’s biggest adjustment was “putting more focus on getting stops on defense and rebounding.”

The strategy was successful, and the Leopards got back in the win column for the first time since Jan. 17, also against Loyola. 

Lafayette trailed by 10 points at halftime, but came out with high energy in the first four minutes of the second half to cut into the Greyhounds’ lead. Both sides traded buckets before a jumper from sophomore forward Neal Quinn and a pair of free throws from Stephens brought the game back to an even 54-54 with 11 minutes remaining. 

“I think the adjustments we made were mostly mental. We weren’t going to allow them to sweep us so we all dug in and willed it out,” Quinn said. “We left it all on the floor and refused to give up being down at the half and losing on Sunday.” 

The two teams traded blows as the second half winded down, with Lafayette clinging to a slim three-point advantage with five minutes to go. The Greyhounds tied the game at 72 apiece with just over a minute left, but a three-pointer from Jaworski and a jumper from Stephens allowed the Leopards to clinch the win at the free-throw line.

Jaworski, a Pre-season All-Patriot League selection, scored a team-high 28 points on 7-14 shooting from the field, including 11-12 from the charity stripe. Jaworski scored 19 points in the second half alone. But Lafayette had their hands full with Loyola’s Santi Aldama, also a Preseason All-Patriot League selection, who matched Jaworski with 30 points and 10 rebounds of his own.

Lafayette freshman forward Kyle Jenkins had the tall task of guarding Aldama for most of the night, but still managed a breakout performance with a career-high 20 points on an efficient 7-11 effort from the field. Jenkins added six rebounds, three assists and a steal in 33 minutes of action. 

“A memorable play to me was when Kyle got the ‘and one’ after fighting off two players for the offensive rebound,” Quinn said. “He was our standout for sure, and I’m super proud of how he’s developing as the season goes on.”

This weekend, Lafayette will compete in another home-and-home weekend series with Loyola. This will be the Leopards fifth and sixth game against Loyola this season, although they have not played any other team more than twice. Saturday’s game in Easton will tip off at 2 p.m., with Sunday’s game in Baltimore scheduled for 5 p.m.