(Montgomery, Ala.) The Loyola University New Orleans men’s basketball team is picked to finish fifth in the conference according to the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) Men’s Basketball Coaches’ Preseason Poll that was released on Wednesday afternoon.
The Wolf Pack received 83 total votes in the poll and earned the only first place vote that was not given to one of the teams in the top two spots.
Defending regular season champion William Carey sits atop the poll with 104 votes (four first place), edging out conference tournament champion Faulkner University by a single vote (103 – six first place).
Middle Georgia State collected 91 votes to land in third and Dalton State picked up 87 votes to end up in fourth.
The Wolf Pack wrapped up the 2015-16 season with a 17-13 overall mark, highlighted by three victories over ranked opponents.
Ending the regular season with a 10-8 record in conference play, Loyola entered the SSAC Championship as the eighth seed.
The Wolf Pack squared off against No. 9-seed Mobile in the opening round of the tournament in Montgomery, Ala. 10 points and five assists by Jalen Gray, paired with 22-of-45 (52%) shooting from the floor as a team, helped Loyola earn the convincing 70-53 victory over the Rams in the opening round.
The road for Loyola only got harder in the next round, with the Wolf Pack pitted against No. 17 William Carey – the top seed in the entire tournament. The game proved closer than many people thought as eighth-seeded Loyola battled back from a 16-point deficit in the second half to tie the Crusaders (73-73) with just under 30 seconds remaining.
Johnny Griffin Jr. muscled up a shot in the interior to give the Wolf Pack their first lead of the contest (75-73) with 26 seconds left to play. Griffin collected steal on the following William Carey possession, which led to Nick Parker getting fouled and converting on both shots from the line. The Crusaders sank a triple to cut the deficit to one, before Nate Pierre got fouled with two seconds remaining to head to the line with a chance to ice the game. Pierre dropped in the first to put Loyola up two and then rebounded his own miss on the second shot to give the Wolf Pack the 80-78 quarterfinal upset.
Griffin has a complete monster in the victory over William Carey – collecting a career-high 28 points to go along with 18 rebounds. With his 18-rebound performance, Griffin passed Brian Lumar (1994-95) for the most rebounds in a single season in program history (273).
Loyola then turned its attention to the semifinals where it would face off against Faulkner. Despite another huge game from Griffin (15 points/14 rebounds), the Wolf Pack fell to Faulkner, the eventual tournament champion, 74-69 to end their postseason run.
Looking ahead to the 2016-17 season, Loyola brings back its entire starting five and all key rotation players from last year. Coming back for his second season with the Wolf Pack, all eyes will be on Griffin in 2016. The transfer from NCAA DI Chicago State led Loyola in both scoring (14.7/game) and rebounding (9.7/game) en route to being named a NAIA DI All-American Honorable Mention, LSWA Third Team All-State honoree and First Team All-SSAC selection last season.
Second Team All-SSAC selection Parker and SSAC All-Freshman selection Tre’von Jasmine also return this season expecting to take a major leap in their third and second seasons, respectively.
The Wolf Pack start the season on Monday, Oct. 24, when they welcome Carver Bible College to First NBC Court for a game set to start at 7:30 p.m.
William Carey – 104 (4)
Faulkner – 103 (6)
Middle Georgia – 91
Dalton State – 87
Loyola – 83 (1)
Martin Methodist – 80
Bethel – 59
Mobile – 49
Coastal Georgia – 32
Blue Mountain – 23
Brewton-Parker – 15