The Mankato Loyola boys’ basketball team dominated the early years of the Pepsi Holiday Tournament winning four of the first five championships from 1998-2002.
The Crusaders have yet to win the tournament title since, but they took their first step in achieving that championship goal by defeating Minnesota Valley Lutheran 74-62 in the first round of the 2013 tournament Thursday night at Bethany Lutheran College.
Loyola jumped to an early lead fueled by its pressure defense. The Crusaders used steals and deflections to race out to a 28-11 lead.
“That was one of the keys in the beginning of the game to have an effective transition. We knew they were going to try and run on us,” Loyola senior guard Lance Gaspar said. “Coach really stressed we have to get back on defense and try to create steals and it ultimately turned into layups on the other end.”
Creating the early steals and lay-ins were Gaspar and Reilly Knutson. Each scored a pair of baskets resulting from steals as part of a 12-0 spurt to give Loyola a 20-7 lead with 9:40 left in the first.
“Our offense kind of goes by how our defense is,” Loyola head coach Tim Anderson said. “We’re not good inside, post defense or post offense, so we kind of have to get our defense in transition and put pressure on people. We’ve been successful with that so far this year.”
Gaspar, who’s going to the University of Dayton on a Division I soccer scholarship, showed he’s pretty good at basketball, too, as he was key in Loyola building a 36-20 halftime advantage. He scored 12 of his team-high 21 points in the game’s first 18 minutes.
He contributes to the team in more ways than just scoring.
“Lance is just a great athlete; he runs the floor and he’s a tough kid,” Anderson said. “I think he was probably our leading rebounder and he distributes the ball well.