Fresh off winning the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Player of the Year and leading Loyola to a Final Four berth, expectations for Clayton Custer were high coming into the year. He hasn’t quite reached those expectations, especially in conference play, despite Loyola (16-9, 9-3) sitting in first place in the MVC.
The redshirt senior guard has had an up-and-down year but has managed to be Loyola’s third highest scorer this season, averaging 12 points per game. Custer is also second on the team in assists, dishing out 2.6 per game.
However, these numbers have dipped slightly compared to last season when Custer averaged 13.2 points and 4.1 assists per game. He said defenses have been focusing more attention on him this season compared to last year.
It’s been a sight that’s more and more common. You watch Custer plant his feet and put up a shot, only to see the ball clunk off the rim. After seeing more than half of his shots go in last year, he’s only connecting on 44 percent of his attempts this year.
“It’s been tough,” Custer said following a win over Drake University Feb. 5. “Obviously guys are up on me, trying to not let me catch, trying not to let me shoot. It’s been tough, but we have so many weapons on our team like you saw tonight. Marques [Townes] had 32 [points] and [Cameron] Krutwig’s one of the best big men in the country. I’m just going to keep doing what I need to do to win, but we have a lot of pieces on our team.”
Against Drake, Custer had 14 points and shot 2-for-2 from three-point territory. This comes after Custer struggled against Illinois State University Feb. 2, putting up eight points and shooting 1-of-12 from beyond the arc.
He didn’t come in here hanging his head because he played bad. I don’t have to motivate these older guys. They’re completely motivated. He knew he didn’t shoot the ball well. Next game.”Porter Moser, Loyola head coach
Loyola head coach Porter Moser said he doesn’t need to remind Custer to stay focused and practice hard. He credits Custer, as well as fellow redshirt senior guard Townes, for having the maturity to look ahead to the next game following a bad loss.
“He didn’t come in here hanging his head because he played bad,” Moser said. “I don’t have to motivate these older guys. They’re completely motivated. He knew he didn’t shoot the ball well. Next game.”
Outside of a 26-point outburst against Drake Jan. 5, Custer has struggled to score in MVC play. He has scored 10 or more in six of the 12 conference games after scoring in double figures in all but one of the 13 non-conference games. Included in this conference skid are back-to-back 3-point outings against Indiana State University Jan. 19 and Missouri State University Jan. 23.
“I’ve been playing the game long enough that I don’t let one game, or a few games, take away my confidence,” Custer said. “I’ve been able to play this game at a high level for a long time, so when I have a few bad games I’m able to process it and just think forward.”
Despite the Ramblers comeback victory over Valparaiso University Feb. 10, Custer’s performance was below his usual standards this season. He scored nine points on 2-for-7 shooting, but he did hit a miraculous acrobatic three-pointer to end the first half and lower Valparaiso’s lead to just two points.
“The coaches are telling me to just keep shooting and stay confident,” Custer said. “I think some of the time, they don’t even really need to tell me because they know that I’m confident in myself and the way I can play as long as I stay positive and stay confident. I’m too good of a player not to figure it out at some point.”
Although his shot hasn’t been consistent throughout the season, the Ramblers are 8-1 when Custer shoots 50 percent or better from beyond the arc. His season three-point percentage of 39.1 percent ranks third on the team.
Off the court, Custer has been nominated as a finalist for the 2018-19 Senior CLASS Award. The award, which is only eligible for seniors, recognizes honorable achievements in: community, classroom, character and competition. Custer is one of the 10 national finalists for the award, and the winner will be announced during the 2019 NCAA Final Four.
Next up, Custer and the Ramblers are scheduled to travel to Peoria to face Bradley University Feb. 13. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on NBC Sports Chicago.