Last-second heroics lift SUNO past Loyola

“All I could think was, ‘Get the ball to me.’ ” Kevin Dukes,   Southern-New Orleans guard,  on his winning shot in Saturday’s victory against rival Loyola

Southern-New Orleans pulled out an unbelievable, 67-66 win over crosstown rival Loyola on Saturday at the Castle thanks to last-second heroics by sophomore guard Kevin Dukes, who came off the bench to make a falling-down, fadeaway jumper with less than a second left.

The squads came out of a SUNO timeout with less than 20 seconds left and Loyola up by one after a 3-pointer by guard Robert Lovaglio gave Loyola a 66-65 edge.

After the inbound pass, Dukes dribbled around the swarming Loyola defense. Surrounded by defenders, he heaved a one-handed, desperation jumper.

As Dukes hit the floor, his shot swished through the net, spurring Dukes’ teammates to leap off the bench in jubilation. Loyola successfully argued to have two-tenths of a second put on the clock, but its court-long pass didn’t result in anything.

The win gave the No. 25 Knights a boost of enthusiasm as they head into the winter break and enhanced Dukes’ reputation as a clutch shooter. Dukes played poorly for most of the game; the winning jumper was his only hoop of the night.

“He had an off night, but he’s known for doing that,” SUNO assistant coach Brian Smith said of Dukes’ heroics. “We like to get the ball in his hands at the end because we know he can hole the last shot.”

Dukes said he did his best to maneuver through the defense and get a shot off.

“All I could think was, ‘Get the ball to me,’ ” Dukes said. “I tried to treat it like any other shot.”

For Loyola, it was a crushing way to head into its break — especially after upsetting another ranked opponent and crosstown rival, Xavier, on the road 10 days earlier.

On Saturday, the Wolfpack erased a 10-point halftime deficit to come close to another upset.

“It’s certainly a heartbreaking loss,” coach Michael Giorlando said. “Our players played extremely hard in the second half, and we put ourselves in position to win. But I give SUNO credit for hitting that last shot.”

SUNO, ranked No. 25 in the NAIA Division I poll, improved to 6-1 and swept the season series. The Knights were paced by senior guard Clyde Moore, who had 20 points and six rebounds. Senior guard Russell Moore and junior guard Merlin Walker each added 11 points.

The Wolfpack dropped to 8-5. Junior forward Cameron Hill had 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Lovaglio contributed 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a steal.

Lovaglio heated up to start the second half, and Loyola ramped up its defense to close within 47-44. But a 3 by senior guard Travous Williams helped stopped the bleeding for SUNO, which pumped its lead back up to 10 by the middle of the half.

But the Knights’ inside game evaporated after the 10-minute mark. That triggered a Loyola run keyed by a slew of SUNO fouls, including a technical on coach Dale Valdery for arguing an over-and-back call, that allowed the Wolfpack to close within 59-57 with about five minutes remaining.

Clyde Moore converted a layup and a free throw to stretch the Knights’ lead back to five with about three minutes left, but a three-point play by sophomore forward McCall Tomeny negated Moore’s efforts. Russell Moore sank two free throws, then a lay-in by Hill canceled those out.

That led to Lovaglio’s 3-pointer and Dukes’ acrobatic winner.

Smith noted that the Knights experienced a similar situation earlier this year — with a different result, a 71-66 loss to Wiley College on Nov. 23.

“We’ve been there before,” Smith said. “We work on taking the last shot in practice, so we’re confident with it.”

Giorlando said the nearly three-week winter break will give the Wolfpack a chance to work on its deficiencies, especially ball-handling and rebounding.

“We’ll regroup after this and prepare for our conference schedule,” he said.