The Loyola men’s basketball team (23-5, 13-3) clinched at least a share of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) regular-season title with a 76-66 win over the University of Evansville Feb. 18. Since joining the conference in 2013, this is the first time Loyola has won the MVC and this is Loyola’s first conference title since winning the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1987.
The Ramblers currently hold a two-game lead over Southern Illinois University (SIU) with two games left in the regular season. Loyola can win the MVC outright with a victory over the Salukis Feb. 21 in Carbondale.
Despite ending the conference title drought, head coach Porter Moser said his team hasn’t had time to think about it because the players are focused on the upcoming game against Southern Illinois.
“When you have a couple games left and there’s so much still to play for you just haven’t had time to celebrate that and I know we’ll reflect on it and look on it back later on what it means and everything,” Moser said. “These guys have done a great job of going game to game … it’s just something we haven’t [sat] there and celebrated it yet because our guys are locked in. We immediately were thinking about Southern [Illinois] and how good they are.”
Redshirt junior guard Marques Townes led Loyola with 22 points against Evansville, ending one point shy of his season high. Redshirt junior guard Clayton Custer continued his impressive stretch since his return Jan. 7 from an ankle injury, scoring 17 points while grabbing seven rebounds and dishing six assists for the win. Loyola is now 21-2 when Custer is in the lineup, while going 2-3 while he was out with an ankle injury.
Custer, who has put himself in contention for the MVC Player of the Year award, said there’s still work to be done, despite securing one of the top spots in the MVC.
“We’re excited about it, but we didn’t celebrate it too much because we don’t want to share it with anybody else,” Custer said. “We still have to get at least one more win, so we’ll wait to celebrate after … we clinch it for ourselves.”
Southern Illinois has been one of the hottest teams in the MVC as of late. The Salukis have won eight of their last nine games since falling to Loyola 79-65 at Gentile Arena. SIU is 13-2 at SIU Arena this season and has four players averaging double-digit points. Redshirt junior guard Armon Fletcher leads the way with 14 ppg.
Senior guard Ben Richardson, who’s also been instrumental to Loyola’s success this season, said facing SIU won’t be easy because of how well the Salukis have been playing.
“We’re happy to have gotten another road win, but right now we’re focused on beating a very tough team in SIU at their place and looking forward to the challenge,” Richardson said. “We’re just trying to continue to improve going into March.”
After taking on SIU tonight, Feb. 21, Loyola is scheduled to round out the regular season against Illinois State University at Gentile Arena Feb. 24 before the conference tournament starts March 1 in St. Louis.