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Loyola New Orleans Wolf Pack ends 77 year drought by winning NAIA basketball championship

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Darryl Baker of Loyola University New Orleans, left, goes to the bucket in a championship game against Talladega College at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., March 22, 2022. The Loyola Wolf Pack defeated the Tornadoes 71-56, winning its first ever National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Championship in 77 years. (CNS photo/ Matthew Hicks, MSH Visual via Loyola University New Orleans)

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — Seventy-seven years ago, inside the same building, Loyola University New Orleans won its first National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics men’s basketball national championship.

Inside Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City the night of March 22, the Jesuit-run Loyola Wolf Pack ended that drought by winning the championship, the first since the 1944-45 season.

Top-seeded Loyola beat No. 2-seed Talladega (Alabama) College, 71-56. It was the fourth meeting between the Southern States Athletic Conference rivals, and Loyola won all four matchups.

The Wolf Pack turned in a 37-1 overall record this season, they won the Southern States Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles, and they ran through the NAIA tournament with six wins to cap off a dominant season.

Despite Loyola’s impressive record, the team didn’t have an easy go of it during the season, according to a Loyola news release. It all started when Hurricane Ida ripped off a section of the University Sports Complex’s roof and damaged the team’s home court.

Loyola University New Orleans players celebrate winning their first National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Championship in 77 years at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., March 22, 2022. The Loyola Wolf Pack defeated the Talladega Tornadoes 71-56. (CNS photo/ Matthew Hicks, MSH Visual via Loyola University New Orleans)

The team spent the preseason practicing in Dallas before playing all of its early season home games at Tulane’s Devlin Fieldhouse until a temporary floor was put in place to accommodate the rest of the regular season.

On top of that, the program dealt with COVID-19 postponements, a tornado scare while on the road at Stillman College and symptoms similar to food poisoning while in Kansas City.

None of that could stop the Pack.

“I went into every single game this year believing that I had the best group on the floor, and that they weren’t going to let us lose,” Loyola coach Stacy Hollowell told The Associated Press. “You can’t quantify a kid’s passion, and these kids have passion.”

In Kansas City, Loyola didn’t have its best finish to the first half but still went into the locker room with a 36-21 lead.

Loyola University New Orleans players celebrate winning their first National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Championship in 77 years at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., March 22, 2022. The Loyola Wolf Pack defeated the Talladega Tornadoes 71-56. (CNS photo/ Matthew Hicks, MSH Visual via Loyola University New Orleans)

Four minutes into the second half, the Wolf Pack went ahead 44-25. The Tornadoes wouldn’t go down easy, though. They used an 11-0 run in three-plus minutes to cut the Loyola lead down to 44-36 with 13 minutes to play.

With six minutes left in the game, Loyola led 60-47.

From there, Talladega never could cut the deficit to less than 11, and by the 2-minute mark with Loyola leading by 17, everyone in the gym knew which team would be crowned champion.

The NAIA’s 252 member institutions are small colleges and universities in North America.