Lafayette men’s basketball faced Loyola University for the second week in a row, once again splitting the two games with the Greyhounds. The first game lived up to the hype as two of the top scorers in the Patriot League, Lafayette’s Justin Jaworksi and Loyola’s Santi Aldama, faced off against one another. The Leopards took Saturday’s contest, a 97-94 triple overtime thriller, but suffered an 88-69 defeat the following day.
Following the two games against Loyola, the Leopards now stand at 7-5 with just four games to play in a season unlike any other. This leaves them sitting at third in the Patriot League and at the top of their division, which includes Bucknell and Lehigh. The Bison are currently 4-4 while the Mountain Hawks are 3-7. If Lafayette maintains their position, they will be guaranteed not only a playoff berth but potentially a top-three seed.
Through the first four minutes of Saturday’s affair, the Leopards were scoreless, missing their first five shots. The Greyhounds jumped to an early 13-6 lead in the first ten minutes of the first half, before the Leopards tied it up with around seven minutes to go. The Greyhounds quickly regained a 10-point lead with just under two minutes to play in the first half, but the Leopards closed out on a 7-2 run and ended the half down 35-30.
“I think we were resilient as a team,” said freshman forward Kyle Jenkins. “In the first half we came out slow but we kept fighting no matter what.”
For the majority of the second half, Loyola was in control. With 7:10 left in the second half, the Greyhounds were up 62-49 and the Leopards desperately needed a spark. What ensued was a 16-6 run, capped by some huge plays from senior guards Justin Jaworski, E.J. Stephens, and the freshman Jenkins. With just under three minutes left it was a three point game. In the following minutes, both teams continued to trade baskets before junior guard Tyrone Perry had his breakout moment with a clutch put-back floater with three seconds left, tying the game and sending it to overtime.
The first overtime saw both teams once again trading scores. Lafayette went up two with one minute and 45 seconds left before Loyola tied it up with less than a minute to go. That proved to be the last bucket, as turnovers and missed opportunities plagued both teams. The game headed to another overtime.
In the second overtime, with just over two and a half minutes left, the Leopards held a five-point lead. The Greyhounds, led by forward Santi Aldama, the number two scorer in the Patriot League, couldn’t be tamed and eventually stormed back to knot the game at 90. The teams headed into a third overtime.
The Leopards were able to take control in the third overtime, and a Kyle Jenkins steal with nine seconds left sealed the game at 97-94.
“I knew where he was going to be, so I was ready for it”, said Jenkins, referring to his clutch steal.
Both teams struggled from three-point land this game. Loyola shot a dismal 4 for 24 from deep, while the Leopards were hardly better at 7-27. In this affair, free throws proved to be a huge deciding factor as the Leopards capitalized on 20 of their 25 attempts.
Senior captains Jaworski and Stephens once again played lights out. Jaworski put up 33 points, shooting just under 50 percent while hitting all 12 of his free throws. He also added five steals. Stephens added 26 points, shooting over 55 percent. The scoring output from the seniors, along with their efficiency, has enabled them to become one of, if not the most, threatening backcourts in the Patriot League this year. Jenkins, Perry, and sophomore forward Neal Quinn also ended up with double figures, each finishing with ten points. Loyola’s Santi Aldama led Loyola in scoring by a mile with 30 points, while four other players scored in low double figures.
This game was extra meaningful for the Leopards as it was head coach Fran O’Hanlon’s 350th win. O’Hanlon is the longest tenured coach at Lafayette and the fifth-longest tenured coach in NCAA Division I basketball currently.
Loyola played some excellent basketball on Sunday, possibly hungry for revenge and knowing they let the game slip the day before.
The Leopards opened the game on a quick 6-0 run before Loyola responded with a 16-0 run. Suddenly down by ten, the Leopards called timeout. The Leopards managed to cut the deficit to seven but never came closer.
Lafayette went into the second half down 18 at 44-26. The 18-point deficit ties the largest Lafayette has faced in a half of a game this season. The only other time Lafayette was outscored by 18 in a half this season was last week, also against Loyola.
Throughout most of the second half, both teams traded buckets. Lafayette cut it to 15 midway through the second half, but the Greyhounds refused to let the Leopards get within striking distance. Loyola was rolling on all cylinders, shooting 53 percent in the second half along with 44 percent from three. The Greyhounds managed to close it out and win by 19, 88-69.
Shooting proved to be the difference as the Greyhounds connected on 53 percent of their shots and 41 percent from three compared to 43 percent and 33 percent for the Leopards, respectively. The Greyhounds were also more effective at moving the ball, notching 22 assists compared with just nine for Lafayette. The Greyhounds’ 88 points were the third most Lafayette has given up this year.
As per usual, Jaworski led the way for the Leopards with 17, while sophomore forward Leo O’Boyle added 12 and Stephens had 11.
“Losing by 19, you can see a lot of negatives build, but we went into that, we had a film session [after], it gave us a bit of an edge, to come out this upcoming weekend and leave it all on the court,” O’Boyle said.
The Leopards will face Bucknell this weekend as they continue in Patriot League action. They face the Bison at 4 p.m. at home on Saturday.
“[Bucknell has] a very good program, great team usually, and right now they are clinging on for the playoffs,” O’Boyle said. “We really need to go in there and come out with two wins.”