The Loyola men’s basketball team (18-14, 8-10) knew it had its work cut out for itself going into this season. The Ramblers had just lost three of their top four scorers to graduation and had brought 11 newcomers to the scene.
Early on, it looked like the Ramblers would make a run in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). They started 7-0 at Gentile Arena — including a victory over 2016 Mountain West Conference tournament runner-up San Diego State University — and earned a vote in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since the 1984-85 season.
But when it came time for conference play, the Ramblers seemingly regressed and went back to an average team in the MVC.
The team saw its season come to a close with a 55-50 defeat to Southern Illinois University on March 3 in the quarterfinals of Arch Madness, the conference tournament. The loss was Loyola’s third to the Salukis this season.
Despite the heartbreaking, season-ending loss, the team secured its second winning record in three seasons, and its first since winning the College Basketball Invitational in 2015. The eight conference victories are the most since that tournament- winning season.
One of the biggest stories of the season was the conclusion of Milton Doyle’s storied career. After transferring from Kansas University, he was the first to be selected as MVC Newcomer and Freshman of the Year since former Chicago Bull Doug McDermott in 2011. After some injuries and a down junior year, Doyle came back to have a career year his senior season. Recording three statistical career-highs, averaging 15.2 points per game, five rebounds per game and 4.4 assists per game, he became the first Rambler in program history to earn a First Team All-MVC selection.
Head coach Porter Moser praised Doyle after the loss to Southern Illinois while discussing the impact he had on the growing program.
“He’s changed the expectations [of players],” said Moser. “He’s changed people’s eyes about possibly comingto Loyola as a recruit. He’s changed a lot of things.”
While Doyle continued his success, another player had a breakout season. In his first Division I campaign, junior forward Aundre Jackson, who was honored as MVC Sixth Man of the Year, shot his way onto the national stage. His 66.9 percent field goal average was the fourth best in the nation and is a program record, surpassing Jaja Richards’ 1996-97 clip of 60 percent from the field. Jackson played a key role in the team’s 48.5 percent field goal average, which was good for third-best in team history. While Jackson was mainly used off the bench this season, he could work his way into the starting lineup next year with at least one spot opening up.
Moser said Jackson scored as he was expected, and compared Jackson to former Rambler Montel James, who graduated the year before and was also a junior college transfer.
“We … signed [Jackson] to help fill the void of losing Montel,” Moser said. “Montel made a big jump from his junior to senior year … so we’re hoping that same thing goes with Aundre that he takes a big step between his juniorand senior year.”
In what can be seen as a surprise to some, junior guard Donte Ingram also had a career year. Leading the MVC in three-point percentage (45.8 percent), leading the team in rebounding with 6.8 boards per game and averaging 13.6 points per game, Ingram scored a third-team All-MVC nomination. With Doyle’s departure leaving a hole, Ingram could be one of the players who steps into the role of a go-to scorer.
Moser acknowledged Ingram’s performance and said he wasn’t taken aback by the numbers.
“I thought [Ingram] made a big jump,” Moser said. “I thought he made a tremendous improvement, especially scoring the ball.”
Doyle and Glorind Lisha are the only two Ramblers Moser will lose due to graduation. As of now, the rest of the squad is expected to return next season, but Moser said he’ll have a more definitive idea about next year’s team after his meetings with the players this week.