PITTSBURGH | If Loyola was going to experience a quick departure in the NCAA tournament, it was going to do it the same way it approached the rest of its season.
There was a side trip by day, a feisty effort at night in a foul-plagued 78-59 loss to Ohio State in the round of 64 at Consol Energy Center.
“We were trying to do everything right,” coach Jimmy Patsos said. “We weren’t doing anything wrong. We were too excited trying to do the right thing.”
Erik Etherly scored 19 points for the 15th-seeded Greyhounds (24-9), who could do little to slow down Ohio State sophomore Deshaun Thomas.
As imposing as Buckeyes center Jared Sullinger is, it was Thomas who Patsos fretted about a day earlier. Sure enough, Thomas uncorked a career-high 31 points while exploiting vulnerabilities in Loyola’s press to help second-seeded Ohio State (28-7) earn a date with Gonzaga on Saturday.
“I said I was worried about Deshaun Thomas. He had 31 and 12,” Patsos said. “Jimmy doesn’t just bartend. Jimmy knows basketball, too. I worked for Gary Williams [at Maryland]. I let the media get away that because it’s a good story, but I’ve been coaching for 25 years and Deshaun Thomas is a great player and I expect to see him all-Big Ten.”
Chances are, a few of Loyola’s current players will be scattered across all-conference teams in the next few seasons.
Etherly will be a player of the year candidate in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Dylon Cormier, Justin Drummond and Robert Olson were all well-regarded pieces of Loyola’s backcourt. Point guard R.J. Williams was of great value, demonstrating it Thursday when he encountered early foul trouble.
He’ll be back for three more years, the experience of a scrappy loss certain to urge him and the rest of a roster that loses only one player who played against the Buckeyes.
“I think everybody feels the same way,” Williams said. “We’re just ready to try to come back here next year.”
They’ll be wiser for the experience. An early four-point lead gave way to the script typically anticipated when a team that dwells inside the top 10 for an entire season meets a school making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 18 years.
Williams, Drummond and senior Shane Walker all stumbled into early foul trouble, with Drummond and Walker picking up four fouls before halftime. Nonetheless, Loyola closed within 42-31 at the break, offering a hint of making things interesting.
It didn’t remain that way. The Buckeyes rattled off the first five points out of the break, and Thomas at one stretch scored 13 straight points for Ohio State to almost single-handedly keep the margin in the high teens.
“They were crucial,” Cormier said of Ohio State’s baskets just after the break. “We tried to get out after halftime to break the lead down. They had they better hand and executed well and extended the lead.”
There were still small victories to be had, even if Loyola could never get within single digits. The Greyhounds pestered the Buckeyes to the end, playing harder than some other teams on a nearly upset-free first full day of the tournament.
They also pulled off the feat of forcing a coach to re-insert his starters after yanking them for the night. A flustered Thad Matta sent Thomas, Sullinger and William Buford back in with 2:18 remaining after the Greyhounds trimmed a 20-point deficit to 11.
“If we come out the way we played today, we’re definitely going to be packing our bags and going home for sure,” Sullinger said. “I think it was a big-time wake-up call.”
As for Loyola, it was an instructive moment for a team that probably arrived on this stage a year earlier than anticipated. While Patsos fretted about the impending loss of Walker, he remained philosophical about the task his team faced to finish it season.
“I checked the rankings for the preseason; they were like third,” Patsos said. “You know, you’re not really going to win that game without having everything go right and we didn’t have everything go right. But we played hard and competed and the guys had a great experience.”
—- Patrick Stevens