What went down: The Loyola men’s basketball team (22-5, 12-3) took on Valparaiso University in its penultimate home game at Gentile Arena Wednesday night. In a back-and-forth game, the Ramblers defeated the Crusaders 80-71 in front of more than 2,000 fans including 2017 Loyola graduate and current Long Island Nets guard Milton Doyle.
Loyola maintained its two-game lead in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) standings and it has a chance to clinch the MVC regular season title if it wins over seventh-place University of Evansville Feb. 18 and if Southern Illinois University loses to Indiana State University Feb. 17.
How it happened: The Ramblers held Valparaiso to 6-of-24 shooting in the first half and took a 28-21 lead into the break. Valparaiso started coming back in the second half, scoring seven straight points after the break to tie the game. But Loyola ended the game making 11 of its final 12 shots to ice the game.
Analysis: Redshirt junior guard Clayton Custer scored 20 points for the fourth time in six games this season while also dishing out three assists. The Overland Park, Kansas native checked out with one second left to “MVP” chants as he continues to put himself in conversation for MVC Player of the Year.
First-year center Cameron Krutwig had another big game, scoring 18 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Krutwig now has 180 rebounds on the season, 20 away from becoming the 15th MVC first-year to reach 200 in one season. He’s made an impact for Loyola this season and will play a pivotal role as the Ramblers head into the final week of the regular season.
Senior forward Donte Ingram added 16 points, with 14 coming in the second half. Loyola scored 52 points in the second half, with 14 coming from Ingram and 13 from Custer. The Ramblers average 40.1 ppg after the break this season, compared to 33.6 ppg in the first half. That resilience is what held off a 50-point second half for Valparaiso and allowed Loyola to pick up the victory.
Before the game, Loyola Athletics told The PHOENIX that sophomore guard Cameron Satterwhite had been suspended “indefinitely” for an unspecified “violation of team rules.” This leaves the Ramblers without their backup point guard until Satterwhite is reinstated, and head coach Porter Moser said during the postgame press conference a replacement had yet to be decided.
Satterwhite is averaging two ppg and 1.12 apg in 12 minutes per game, so his loss isn’t detrimental. Despite this, Loyola will have to work a backup point guard into the rotation so Custer doesn’t play 37 minutes per game as he did against Valparaiso.
Loyola’s magic number to clinch the MVC regular season title is two. That number will drop to one if Loyola wins Feb. 18 and will drop again if Southern Illinois University loses Feb. 17. Loyola hasn’t won a conference title since it was a member of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1987, and it’s only a matter of time before that drought is over.
Moser’s thoughts: In the postgame press conference, Moser said strong offense made up for a poor defensive performance in the second half.
“We’ve got weapons and [if] we just keep staying with it, I’m confident we’re going to score,” Moser said. “Our defense kept us in the game the first half. We need to guard better in the second half, and a lot of it was credit to them. They made some shots, they spread us out and they drove us.”
What’s next? The Ramblers are scheduled to travel to Evansville to take on the Purple Aces Feb. 18.