Perhaps Jimmy Patsos’ favorite moment on Friday night, after 5-foot-zilch walk-on Steve Cruz “winning” a ceremonial opening tap against Manhattan center Rhamel Brown, was Ryan Oliver getting back in his grill.
Oliver, who spent much of last season in a tasty bowtie and suit on the bench instead of showing off his sweet shooting form, threw some dirt back in Patsos’ face in a timeout huddle.
And Patsos loved it.
Even better was when Oliver backed up his feistiness by making two shots that teammate Evan Hymes rated game-winners, even though there was still 1:43 to play in a game that came down to free throws in the closing seconds.
The 6-foot-3 native of Inglewood, Calif., the guy who is still appalled by how dirty the snow gets here on the East Coast, made two back-to-back filthy three-pointers to give the Saints a 60-54 lead.
Patsos has implored Hymes, fellow junior Rob Poole and Oliver to not surrender leadership of this team to the promising freshmen Patsos initially recruited to Loyola.
On Friday, Oliver held up his end of that bargain.
“We all stepped up big,”
Oliver said. “Evan got 1,000 points, which is huge for his career, Rob played well and knocked down clutch free throws and I was able to make come up with two big threes.”
Patsos said before the season that it was imperative for him to find that eighth guy in the rotation so that he can play his fast tempo.
Oliver is starting to look like that guy.
After barely playing early in the season, he got his average minutes to 14.1 per game heading into the 67-63 win over Manhattan. He played 21 on Friday.
The game went back and forth in the second half until he hit a three for a 57-52 lead and another for a 60-54 lead that was especially damaging to the Jaspers because it came at the end of the shot clock.
In the first half, Oliver, who was out for half of last season with a knee injury, missed the front end of a one-and-one, and the threes cleaned the slate on that, especially after Oliver responded with the type of passion Patsos has been trying to instill.
“He kind of got at me during the timeout a little,” Patsos said. “He said, ‘Alright, alright, I missed a free throw, that was 12 minutes ago.’ I said, ‘Alright, you’re right, good point.’
“This is the MAAC. This is a feisty, grind-it-out, tough league with kids who have a lot of moxie.”
Siena benefitted from an atrocious free-throw night by the Jaspers — 19-for-42 (45.2 percent) — but also made the shots that counted.
Poole was 5-for-6 from the line in the final 19.2 seconds; Hymes scored 17.
Oliver scored all of six points. But those two shots were clean.