Last year, the Loyola men’s basketball team ranked tied for 20th out of 353 Division I teams in the nation in three-point percentage with 39.8 percent. The year before, the team was 27th with 38.9 percent.
Going into the game against No. 5-ranked University of Nevada Nov. 27, the Ramblers were tied for 244th, shooting at a 31.7 percent clip from beyond the arc through six games. After going 7-for-20 from deep against the Wolf Pack, that number slightly increased to 32.1 percent.
It’s a problem that wasn’t expected for Porter Moser’s squad this year. Last year’s three-point leader, redshirt senior guard Clayton Custer, returns after shooting 45.1 percent from downtown. Sophomore guard Lucas Williamson also returns from a year in which he shot 41.5 percent from three-point land.
But after Ben Richardson’s 40 percent and Donte Ingram’s 39.2 percent graduated, holes in the lineup are being exposed. The Ramblers have lost their touch from the three-point line.
Williamson’s shooting at 37.9 percent from downtown, whereas Custer is shooting a mere 30.6 percent. Moser’s playing style last year — which, frankly, was the reason Loyola got to the Final Four — was “pace-and-space.” The offense got to both ends of the court quickly and spaced out the floor to make the defense work harder. This created open three-point shots.
The problem with this style arises when the shots don’t fall.
In Loyola’s three losses this year — to Furman University Nov. 9, Boston College Nov. 21 and Nevada Nov. 27 — the Ramblers have shot a combined 26.5 percent from outside. In their four wins, they’ve shot 36.8 percent.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s been a tale of two teams for Loyola this year. It has to change — and it has to happen sooner rather than later.
It’s safe to say this season hasn’t lived up to heightened expectations. Although Nevada is a top-five team, the losses to Furman and Boston College weren’t ideal. If Loyola wants to repeat as Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) champion, the shooting needs to improve.
Despite what the FS1 announcers were saying during the Boston College game, the poor three-point shooting can’t entirely be attributed to great defense by the opposing teams. The Ramblers are missing open shots — which winds up being the achilles heel of college basketball teams in today’s day and age.
The potential’s there. First-year guard Cooper Kaifes is known as a lights-out shooter and proved that in Loyola’s home opener when he went 5-for-7 from beyond the arc for 19 points. Since then, he’s tapered off and is shooting at a 57.9 percent clip from outside so far.
Redshirt senior guard Marques Townes is also showing signs of life after scoring 24 points in Loyola’s loss to Nevada Nov. 27 while shooting 3-for-4 from three-point territory. He’s currently shooting at 39.1 percent from deep for the year after going 38.7 percent last year.
Once the offense figures itself out, this team will be firing on all cylinders. Moser’s team is built for an efficient offense.
He’s also dealing with a young squad — eight of Loyola’s 11 scholarship players are underclassmen. They’re still figuring out how to play together, which is expected given Ingram’s and Richardson’s leadership is now out of the picture.
For now, though, the Ramblers will have to trudge through the growing pains. They’ll have their ups and downs, but there are still six games left until MVC play begins Jan. 2.
The pieces are there. Now, the trick is getting them to fit together. Will it happen when Loyola takes on University of Illinois at Chicago Dec. 2? It could. It also could not.
We’ll just have to wait and see.