The Loyola men’s basketball team’s win-loss records are the best they’ve been in 30 years, but the numbers inside the box score are even more impressive.
The Ramblers (21-5, 11-3) are in the midst of its most successful season in decades. The team has won 10 of its last 11 games and its 21 wins is a record of the most before a conference tournament since they last made the NCAA tournament in the 1984-85 season.
Loyola ranks fourth in the nation in field goal percentage, shooting at a 51.4 percent clip as a group. The Ramblers also rank first in the nation in home field goal percentage with a 54.6 percent average at Gentile Arena.
Individually, redshirt junior guard Clayton Custer is making his case for Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Player of the Year this season. Custer ranks second in the MVC in field goal percentage with a 55.1 percent clip and is fourth in the MVC in assists per game, dishing out an average of four per game. Custer and Illinois State University guard Milik Yarbrough are the only two MVC players to sit in the top five for both categories.
Custer has scored in double figures in all but two games this season. The Ramblers are 19-2 when Custer’s in the starting lineup and went 2-3 while he was out with an ankle injury. He also became the first Rambler since 2011 to put up 20 or more points in three straight games. He’s been an integral part to Loyola’s success, but he gave credit to the team’s depth.
“I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with me … if we share the ball the way we can, we get downhill and make plays for other guys,” Custer said. “I think we’re so deep that it’s going to be hard to beat us as long as we play the way we’re supposed to play.”
Also impressive is first-year center Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig was a three-star center during recruiting, according to ESPN, and he was expected to come in and make an impact. Even with high expectations, Krutwig has been opening eyes around the MVC all season. He leads the team with 6.7 rpg and his 10.4 ppg ranks fifth. He also currently sits at 173 rebounds for the season. If he gets 27 more in the next four games, Krutwig would become the 15th MVC first-year to achieve 200 rebounds in his rookie season.
The Ramblers also lead the MVC with 15.9 apg and a 1.24 assists-to-turnover ratio so far this season. Head coach Porter Moser said these numbers are critical to the success of the program.
“[Moser’s mentor Rick] Majerus used to say ‘I don’t mind turnovers out of commission, I just hate the ones out of omission,’ omitting your toughness [and] omitting your mind,” Moser said. “If we’re trying to be aggressive in transition and we throw an advance pass ahead and it goes out of bounds, I’m usually clapping at the guys. That’s a turnover out of commission. We’re trying to do the right thing and make a play, and I don’t want them to get tight on that.”
With four games left before the MVC tournament, the Ramblers’ magic number is three to clinch the MVC regular season title. The number will drop by one if Southern Illinois University — which sits in second place — loses a game and will drop again if Loyola wins a game.
Despite all the hype surrounding the program’s success, Moser said he’s focused on taking the rest of the season one game at a time.
“Our guys have been focusing on getting better every game [and] taking it game by game,” Moser said. “I know this sounds like this proverbial coach-speak, but the guys have bought into it. So I’m not going to talk about how many wins we have … we just keep saying ‘Put it in the bank. Move on.’”
The Ramblers are scheduled to take on Valparaiso University at Gentile Arena Feb. 14 before traveling to the University of Evansville Feb. 18.