After a deflating 67-48 defeat at the hands of University of Evansville Jan. 8, the Loyola men’s basketball team (10-7, 3-1) bounced back with a nail-biting 67-64 win over Illinois State University (ISU) in front of a sold-out crowd at Gentile Arena Saturday afternoon.
The Ramblers were led by redshirt senior guard Marques Townes, who finished with 21 points, his second 20-point performance in the last three games. Sophomore center Cameron Krutwig also provided 13 points and snagged eight rebounds.
Recovering from the loss to Evansville, the Ramblers got back to playing team basketball as they dished 12 assists while committing a season-low seven turnovers. They also shot at a 50 percent clip from the field as a hot first half paced the attack.
“After the [Evansville] game, we were all pretty disappointed and the locker room was pretty tense,” Krutwig said. “We responded really well [with] two days of practice that were really good and we came back today with a great team effort.”
Illinois State, last season’s Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament runner-up, was picked to finish second in this season’s MVC preseason poll behind the Ramblers. This was the first regular-season meeting between the two teams since last year’s match-up at a sold-out Gentile Arena, which Loyola won 68-61. The Redbirds fall to 9-8 overall on the season and 2-2 in MVC play.
“I don’t expect anything less in this game [against] Illinois State,” Loyola head coach Porter Moser said. “They came out and played really hard.”
The first half saw the Ramblers get off to a fast start, as they led ISU 12-5 at the first media timeout. This would set a trend for the rest of the half as Loyola closed the half shooting 59.3 percent from the field and headed to the locker room leading 40-34.
“I think we fought,” ISU head coach Dan Muller said. “We fought back hard, but I think we lost the game in the first half with our defense.”
The second half proved thrilling as Illinois State outscored the Ramblers 30-27 and tied the game 61-61 on a put-back dunk by Matt Chastain — who played at Loyola during the 2016-17 season and transferred to ISU last year — with 3:37 remaining. The Ramblers failed to make a field goal in the game’s final 6:16, missing their last six shots over that span.
Despite the cold spell, the Ramblers pulled out the victory through their ability to convert from the free-throw line. Sophomore guard Lucas Williamson and redshirt senior guard Clayton Custer both hit key free throws in the final seconds to keep Loyola out in front.
“We just find ways to win,” Krutwig said. “Marques said it after the game, ‘There’s a million ways to win a game.’ … I didn’t even know that we didn’t make a field goal in the last six minutes, so we just found ways to win by getting to the free throw line.”
The win came in front of 4,513 fans at Gentile — two of which were 2019 signees Marquise Kennedy and Paxson Wojcik. Moser said the crowd was much different than it would’ve been in years past when Loyola struggled to draw fans to Gentile.
“I was pumped that people came back during a snowstorm [and] we’re not back from the semester break yet,” Moser said. “It would’ve looked like a quarantine game a few years ago.”
Loyola is next scheduled to take on Valparaiso University Jan. 15 at Gentile. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago.