The Loyola basketball team entered Friday’s season-defining contest with Mansfield hoping to coronate a team as the District 1-3A champions for the first time in nearly two decades.
But party spoilers, undisguised as Mansfield, entered the oldest, loudest and perhaps proudest gym in the city exiting with a 60-57 victory and their first league crown since the 2011-12 season.
“Loyola has a heckuva team and we knew we were going to have to grind out a win,” Mansfield coach Jimmie Davis said. “But we’re very excited to win a district title, because our guys fought hard to get it.”
A standing room only crowd in the Flyers gym included former girls’ coach and Centenary standout Willie Jackson, along with a loud and proud contingent of Loyola students.
They ignited their players from the outset with senior Tony Dorsey scoring the first 9 points of the game for his team on his way to a 29-point night. But the Wolverines (16-13, 6-2) were undaunted behind the play of Nigel Canada (22 points) and Devin Washington (17 points).
And even though Mansfield had a horrible night at the free throw line, converting just 9 of 20 attempts, it was Lakendrick Ross, who dropped in 3 of 4 in the final 30 seconds, who sealed the deal.
The Flyers (14-13, 5-3) had one final opportunity to tie the game, getting the ball back with 13 seconds remaining. They worked it around the perimeter and sophomore Deven Melancon (17 points) got an open look, but the ball bounced off the back of the rim as time expired.
“I told the guys to share the ball and we got a good look. It just didn’t fall,” Loyola coach Ben Schonfarber said. “I’m extremely proud of the way we fought the whole game. I couldn’t have asked for more out of them.”
In the first meeting between the two clubs, Loyola led the entire game until Mansfield won 47-46 in the closing seconds when a Loyola shot was off the mark. This time around the game was also close throughout with 12 ties and neither team managing more than a 5-point lead.
The game was last tied at 53 with just under 4 minutes to play on an AJ Taylor runner in the lane. But Canada scored on successive trips down the court and Dorsey missed on successive trips allowing the visitors to get a 57-53 advantage with a minute remaining. The free throws by Ross allowed the Wolverines to escape.
“The difference for us was the play of our posts. They were dominant tonight,” Davis said. “Our guards had been carrying us to this point. But every time we play Loyola it’s like a chess match. All three years I’ve been the coach it’s been like this.”