Paul Westhead, the scholarly Loyola Marymount coach who often quotes Shakespeare or his favorite English poets, instead chose a line from Ol’ Blue Eyes for his summation of Thursday’s playoff performance:
“I’m disappointed we lost, but as Frank Sinatra says, we did it our way.”
The Lions went down with guns blazing, losing to Arkansas in the opening round of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Midwest Regional, 120-101.
A crowd of 37,232, an NCAA record for the first round, was on hand at the Hoosier Dome and was treated to several scoring records. Arkansas’ total set a Midwest Regional mark, and Loyola finished the season with a scoring average of 112.5, breaking the 12-year-old mark of 110.5 set by Nevada Las Vegas.
The Lions were short-handed but made several runs at the deeper Razorbacks and were within six points with 5:18 left before being outgunned.
Few things went Loyola’s way. The Lions got off 98 shots but made only 35, and only 9 of 39 from three-point range. Arkansas had a 20-13 turnover advantage and shot 58.6%, due mainly to getting easy baskets in the paint.
The Lions also missed point guard Enoch Simmons, who watched from the sideline with a broken hand as guards Jeff Fryer and Terrell Lowery fouled out and Tom Peabody finished the game with an ice pack on a bruised leg.
“We played hard, our shots just didn’t go down as well as we needed,” Westhead said. “We generated enough shots, we closed the gap a couple of times, we just didn’t get over the hump. Life without Enoch Simmons is difficult.”
Arkansas (25-6) took a quick lead behind center Mario Credit, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds by halftime. He finished with a career-high 34 points and 13 rebounds. The Razorbacks led by as many as 18 points before Loyola even got warm, and Arkansas’ tough matchup zone threw a blanket on early three-point attempts by Fryer and Bo Kimble.
But midway through the first half, the Lions finally got going, pulling off an 11-0 run to get within five, 44-39. Arkansas rebuilt its lead in the final three minutes to gain a 68-53 edge at half-time.
“This was the kind of game you’re going to have runs, with two up-tempo teams,” Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson said. “We jumped on ‘em in the first half and got some cushion. I knew eventually some of (Loyola’s) threes would fall. A 15-point lead is like a two-point lead against that team.”
Arkansas produced three consecutive baskets early in the second half, and the Razorbacks built the lead back to 82-64 before Loyola again came to life.
A technical foul against Arkansas for delay of game started a 17-5 Loyola run that included a four-point play by Fryer. The Lions got to within six, 87-81.
Richardson countered by reinserting forward Todd Day, who was fresh after being on the bench with three fouls. Day scored nine points in a 17-6 outburst as Arkansas put the game away.
Lenzie Howell had 27 points and 12 rebounds, Day had 20 points and Lee Mayberry added 19 in Arkansas’ balanced attack.
The Razorbacks, who had not won an NCAA tournament game since Richardson replaced Eddie Sutton four years ago, advanced to Saturday’s second round here against Louisville.
Loyola finished at 20-11. Hank Gathers led the way with 28 points and 17 rebounds, virtually clinching the NCAA titles in both categories. He also finished with 1,015 points this season, the 12th player in Division I history to top 1,000. Fryer and Kimble added 24 apiece but, combined, made only 14 of 51 shots, 33 of which were three-point attempts.
Richardson said that defending against Loyola’s outside attack had been very important.
“I don’t think they faced anyone who can put pressure on the guards like ours can,” he said.
Westhead said he had felt confident when Loyola made its last run.
“We just didn’t crash it one more notch,” he said. “Arkansas kind of cut us off at push time.”
As Frank Sinatra would say, that’s life.