Loyola of New Orleans, a team without a home gymnasium for much of the season, has a new banner to hang in the rafters of its renovated arena. The No. 1 overall seed Wolf Pack blew past second-seeded Talladega (Alabama) 71-56 and claimed the 84th NAIA men’s basketball championship on Tuesday night in a meeting between Southern States Athletic Conference rivals at Municipal Auditorium. The effects of Hurricane Ida last summer damaged the Wolf Pack’s cozy home, known as The Den, forcing the team to spend preseason camp in Dallas, practice at odd hours on other courts in town, including a portable court installed in The Den that broke down. Loyola played five early-season home games and the first two rounds of the NAIA Tournament at Tulane University. Still, little could keep the Wolf Pack from producing a 37-1 record, including wins in all four meetings with Talladega, 32-6. The Wolf Pack claimed the school’s second NAIA Tournament championship — and first since 1945 when it was the NAIB Tournament — a title commemorated by an aging banner high above the new court installed in The Den.
Loyola’s first three victories over Talladega, including the conference tournament final, were decided by 10, 6, and 8 points (in overtime). But Loyola took control of this one early, and except for a spurt in the second half by Talladega, which was missing suspended point guard Cam Potts, the Wolf Pack was not seriously threatened.
Talladega, playing in its first NAIA title game and seeking to become the first Historically Black College and University program to win the championship since Texas Southern in 1977, made a second-half run at the Wolf Pack, going from a 19-point deficit to 50-45 after a pair of three-pointers by Markel Williams and Darryl Baker. But the Wolf Pack answered with a tip-in by Burns, a three-pointer by Brandon Davis, and a steal and slam by Zach Wrightsil, rebuilding Loyola’s lead to 57-45 with 6 minutes, 17 seconds to play. Wrightsil, a 6-7 senior and five-time SSAC Player of the Year, sparked the Wolf Pack with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists. Both he and Burns have opportunities to return next year and add another banner at Loyola, though both were non-committal afterward.
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