It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a win.
No. 8 Loyola was favored to defeat No. 9 Bradley University heading into the opening round of Arch Madness, the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament. The two teams split a pair of regular season games. Both teams came ready to compete.
The game was an offensive struggle for both teams. Ramblers’ head coach Porter Moser was forced to rotate guards in the absence of Tyson Smith, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Junior Milton Doyle found himself in foul trouble with two early fouls, which didn’t help the cause.
Bradley led the game for majority of the first half. Loyola finally took control of the game with 54 seconds left in the half, but the Ramblers’ three-point lead was short-lived. Bradley’s Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye hit a near-halfcourt buzzer-beating three — similar to the one Milton Doyle hit against Bradley two years ago at the tournament — to tie the game at 29 at the half.
Loyola’s Achille’s heel all season has been shooting and rebounding. In the first half, the Ramblers shot 32.1 percent from the field, but they turned their offense around in the second half. Loyola came out of the locker room with a more aggressive mentality and shot 50 percent from behind the arc.
Forwards Montel James and Donte Ingram picked up the slack for Loyola’s offense. James notched his seventh double-double of the season with a game-high 20 points and 16 rebounds. Ingram scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half.
But what captured Loyola’s aggressive demeanor was when sophomore Ben Richardson dove on the floor to retrieve a loose ball with three minutes remaining in the game. Richardson tossed the ball to James, who scored an uncontested layup.
James said Richardson’s dive was a good example of his passion to win.
“That just shows how much character he has and how bad he wants to win,” said James. “I’m grateful to have somebody like that on my team who doesn’t care about getting down and dirty. He dives on the floor. He hustles for every ball.”
Braves head coach Brian Wardle said Richardson’s hustle play was a prime example of how the game went.
“There were 50-50 balls that just were unlucky bounces that went to them, and I think they got points off most of them,” said Wardle. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way, and I give Loyola credit. They played hard.”
The Ramblers went on to defeat the Braves 74-66.
Bradley ended the season with a 5-27 overall record and was 3-15 in the MVC. Wardle said today was a tough loss, but he looked forward to working with his team during the off season.
With one game down, the Ramblers advance to the quarterfinals where they will face No. 1 seed Wichita State at 12:05 p.m. on March 4. Loyola will look to get its first win over the Shockers in its three seasons in the MVC.
James said the team isn’t going to dwell on the game and plans to move forward.
“With [Wichita State], we’ve just got to stay looking forward and just go into tomorrow with a great mindset that anything could happen,” James said. “Anything can happen, so we’ve just got to go into the game tomorrow and play aggressive.”
Moser applauded his team’s aggressiveness.
“It wasn’t a pretty effort,” said Moser. “That doesn’t matter. It’s about winning, surviving and advancing.”
And that’s just what the Ramblers are doing.