- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Fourth in an occasional series on trying to turn around one of college basketball’s worst programs.

BALTIMORE — It was a familiar feeling but hardly comforting.

Loyola College, a basketball program synonymous with losing, was blowing another huge lead. Coach Jimmy Patsos called a timeout after the Greyhounds watched a 16-point lead dwindle to three. A bunch of bleary-eyed players came to the sideline looking ready to accept another inevitable knockout.

“I saw what was happening and said, ‘Here we go again,’ ” said Patsos, in his first year at Loyola after 13 seasons as an assistant at Maryland. “Manhattan made a couple funky shots to get it down to three. The guy banked one in. I’m like, ‘Here we go.’ ”

History suggested another cruel finish. Patsos suggested otherwise.

“Coach didn’t rant and rave and try to kill us,” freshman Freddie Stanback said. “He just tried to drill into our heads that nothing is permanent. We don’t always have to be the bottom feeders of the [Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference].”

Whatever Patsos said, it worked. Loyola shocked MAAC power Manhattan by maintaining its poise and hitting free throws down the stretch to pull off a 77-70 upset. The half-filled bandbox known as Reitz Arena erupted. One student yelled, “We’re going to the tournament!” while players broke out in a wild on-court celebration.

After all, Loyola has endured five consecutive 20-loss seasons and seems destined for another; it brought a six-game losing streak into Sunday’s home game. The Greyhounds were coming off perhaps their worst defeat in another lost season, one in which they produced only 35 points at home against Fairfield three days earlier.

It would have been easy to play out the string and look forward to next season, when Andre Collins and Hassan Fofana, two transfers from Maryland who followed Patsos to Baltimore, become eligible.

The coach, unwilling to wait that long, was willing to try anything to speed the process. Patsos — whose behavior rivaled the hysterics of his former boss, Gary Williams, earlier in the season ? recently has tried to act calmer in practice and on the sideline.

“Maybe they see me getting all crazy and they get crazy,” he said.

In fact, things became so desperate Patsos “just had it” and chose starters essentially through a pickup game. He divided the players into two teams during practice and said the winning team would start. The result meant normal starting point guard, Canadian national team player Shane James, began the game against Manhattan on the bench.

Just like during that timeout, he was looking for a way to show the Greyhounds they “don’t have to lose every game,” as senior Bernard Allen put it.

For a while, though, it seemed that way.

“I was surprised,” said Patsos, whose team improved to 4-17 overall, 3-9 in the MAAC. “I hate to say it, but we were due. It is nice to get the win for myself, but I have been to the mountaintop [with Maryland’s 2002 national championship]. Even though it was as an assistant, I don’t care, I have cut down the nets. To see these guys [beat Manhattan] after what they have been through, I was impressed.”

Allen finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds, while junior Linton Hinds matched a career high with 18 points. The Greyhounds displayed poise breaking the press, patience running the offense, and hustle in outrebounding the Jaspers 49-25.

The victory gave Loyola a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time since the start of the 1999-2000 season tomorrow at Siena, a streak of 131 games. Moreover, the moribund program, in the midst of its 11th consecutive losing season, can end a 36-game road losing streak.

“We have to get a road win,” said Stanback, a forward from Arlington’s Bishop O’Connell High School who is considered a cornerstone for the team’s future. “That’s what we have to do next.”

Despite the mounting defeats, Patsos has generated a buzz. He created VIP courtside seating and sold 27 pairs for $1,000 a set. Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has midcourt seats, just like he does at Maryland.

But nothing can create excitement like winning, and it remains to be seen whether the win over Manhattan (10-11, 5-8), which beat Florida in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, was a landmark win or a tease.

“We will see if we have matured as a team if we can handle the next one,” the coach said. “I will be honest. I did a bad job as a coach after we beat Niagara [early in the season]. We had a week off for exams, but we weren’t ready to play when we played Mount St. Mary’s. Let me tell you, it will be business as usual this week. I’m learning as we go along.”

Indeed. Late in the win, Patsos pulled James following a bad pass. The point guard caught an earful but soon returned to hit a critical 3-pointer and provide leadership down the stretch.

“The mistake I was making was I was ripping them and taking them out of the game,” Patsos said. “I have watched Gary [Williams] closer than ever this year. He doesn’t get as mad as people think, and he sticks with his rotation. I was getting upset and getting away from my rotation. If you yell at them and play them, they are OK with it. If you yell at them and don’t play them, that’s when they say, ‘What do I need this for?’ ”

Allen has been a big target of Patsos’ anger. The coach has tried to push the burly 6-foot-6 forward to live up to his potential.

“I have dreams about him yelling at me all the time,” Allen said. “But he’s a good coach, and I love him. He’s a colorful character. He can scream with the best of them. I would be worried if he wasn’t on me all the time.”

Patsos also has learned a few kind words sometimes are more effective than a red-faced tirade.

“There was one situation where I messed up [against Manhattan] where early in the season he would have went berserk,” Hinds said. “This time he brought me over smiling and just told me what to do. He is just learning as a coach like we are learning.”

And maybe soon all the lessons will pay off with a few more Manhattan-sized wins.

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