AP Sports Writer
BALTIMORE (AP) - In its first foray into the NCAA tournament since 1994, Loyola (Md.) will take a short trip to face a formidable foe.
The Greyhounds on Sunday received a No. 15 seed in the East Region and will open play Thursday in Pittsburgh against Big 10 power Ohio State.
"They're a tough, physical team that has one of the best players in the country," Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos said, referring to Buckeyes star Jared Sullinger.
The Greyhounds (24-8) earned a berth in the tournament by defeating Fairfield 48-44 on Monday to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship.
Since this was the first time in 18 years that Loyola was part of the selection process, the school went to great lengths to make sure it was a special occasion.
Patsos and the players gathered inside Reitz Arena to hear the announcement. They sat on chairs and a sectional couch in front of televisions at midcourt while fans and boosters watched from the stands. Both scoreboards displayed the result of the MAAC championship game.
"This whole event was exciting," said Erik Etherly, Loyola's leading scorer. "We almost filled the entire side of the bleachers here."
Patsos and the players stood and cheered when Loyola learned its fate _ even if it meant facing Ohio State. (27-7).
"They're a great program, have a great tradition," Etherly said. "It's going to be a very tough team because they're a very talented team."
No matter. Loyola would have almost certainly have been happy to face an NBA team if it meant being part of the NCAA tournament, given that the Greyhounds were 1-27 in 2003-04 and have been striving for respectability ever since.
Patsos left his job as an assistant coach at the University of Maryland to take over at Loyola immediately after that 1-27 disaster.
"I wanted to be a head coach, and Red Auerbach said, `You'd better take that job. Even you can do better than 1-27,'" Patsos recalled.
Loyola went 6-22 in Patsos' first year and never fared better than 19-14 _ until now.
Patsos and the Greyhounds intend to enjoy this run, and the attention they've received, for as long as it lasts.
The thrill began at the final buzzer of the Fairfield game and continued on Sunday night, when the word LOYOLA showed up on TV in front of a national audience.
"It's great your name flash across that screen," Etherly said. "Not many teams get that thrill. I'm just overcome with joy and happiness, and I'm very excited."
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