Loyola’s men’s basketball team made history this season as the program eclipsed the 20-win mark and made its first postseason tournament appearance in 30 years.
The Ramblers finished with a 24-13 overall record and an 8-10 record in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play. It was the first time any Loyola basketball team had won more than 20 games since the 1985 season.
Senior guard London Dukobo is happy to have had a winning season in his last year with the team.
“It was something that I could never imagine,” said Dukobo. “Coming from seven wins as a freshman to getting 24 wins was great. We had more wins this year than we did in my first two years combined, so that was just something new to me and something awesome.”
Loyola exceeded many people’s expectations this season. The Ramblers were picked to place last in the conference in the preseason MVC coaches poll.
“I think the fact that we had a chip on our shoulder knowing that everyone thought we wouldn’t have a good season and they picked us last really fueled us,” Dukubo said.
Despite the preseason ranking, Head Coach Porter Moser was confident in his players before the season began.
“Obviously we were unanimously picked last, as we should have been. But we kind of had a mantra amongst ourselves: Your only predictions that matter are within your own locker room. We felt that we could do a lot of good things,” said Moser in an interview with the MVC.
The Ramblers began the season on a high note, winning 10 of their 12 games during their out-of-conference schedule. They got their first taste of success in tournament play when they won the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic in December.
“After that win streak we knew that we could play with anybody and we could have a successful season,” said freshman forward Donte Ingram.
Loyola had its toughest stretch of the season during conference play. The team went on a losing streak during the month of January, dropping six of seven matchups against conference foes.
The Ramblers struggled without their star sophomore guard, Milton Doyle, on the floor. Doyle missed 11 games in the middle of the season with an ankle injury and the team went 4-7 without its best offensive player.
The Ramblers overcame the slump and began to get back to their winning ways at the end of the regular season, although. They won their final two games to clinch the sixth seed in the MVC tournament.
Doyle returned during the final game of the season as he and the other Loyola guards led the team on an impressive run in the conference tournament.
“I think getting Milton back really helped us,” Dukubo said. “Having him gave us confidence.”
The Ramblers played with tenacity in their first game of the conference tournament, upsetting the Indiana State University Sycamores 81-53. Led by freshman guard Ben Richardson’s perfect shooting from behind the arc, the Ramblers seemed like they could do no wrong offensively against the Sycamores.
Moser said the win in the conference tournament showed progress for a Loyola team who looks to be relevant in the conference for years to come.
“We made a step,” Moser said. “We weren’t in the top three in the conference, but we know that’s where we want to go, and this tournament was a step towards that.”
With the win, the Ramblers advanced to the semifinals of the tournament to play the University of Northern Iowa Panthers. Loyola was unable to pull another upset against the Panthers and were eliminated from the tournament by the eventual conference champions.
“Playing Northern Iowa in the semifinals for a chance to play in the tournament was something that no one expected us to do,” Dukubo said. “It made everyone in the Valley respect us and think that we belong.”
Elimination from the conference tournament meant that the Ramblers lost an opportunity to advance to March Madness, but the Ramblers would get good news before the season was over. They received a bid to play in another postseason tournament, the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).
Loyola dominated the CBI, winning all five games en route to winning the tournament.
Junior guard Earl Peterson was impressive in postseason play. He averaged 14 points and was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
“It was an unreal feeling,” said Peterson in an interview with the MVC. “It was something I’ve never felt before, and after feeling that I want to be able to go to a higher level next year and make it to the NCAA tournament and hopefully have that same feeling.”
Moser said that playing in the CBI was an invaluable experience for his players.
“For our guys, I wanted them to continue to play with that mentality of it’s win or go home,” Moser said. “We felt just like anything in life, if you get a taste of it and you have some success, you’re going to want some more. We were very fortunate that’s what happened.”
With a little taste of postseason success, the Ramblers are hoping that next season they will be dancing come March.
“Next year we have a lot of guys coming back, and we have that chemistry and we will be focused and more hungry,”said Ingram.
“Our big goal will be to make the NCAA tournament.”