A high-powered offense and staunch defense helped lead the Loyola men’s basketball team (11-6, 3-1) to a 78-44 win over University of Evansville at Gentile Arena Saturday afternoon.
Highlighted by a 70.5 percent shooting clip from the field, the Ramblers found success in the offensive zone. They had three players in double digit scoring, two with nine points and slammed down seven total dunks. First-year guard Marquise Kennedy led the way with a season-high 20 points, going 8-for-9 from the floor and throwing down three dunks.
Redshirt junior forward Aher Uguak and junior center Cameron Krutwig also dropped in 12 points and 11 points, respectively for the Ramblers. Redshirt junior forward Tate Hall and senior guard Bruno Skokna each chipped in nine.
The Ramblers’ defense was also a focal point, holding Evansville to 18-for-46 shooting and a season-low 44 points. Loyola also grabbed 28 rebounds and five steals.
Loyola head coach Porter Moser said it was a remarkable offensive presence — something the team has been working toward all season.
“We weren’t settling,” Moser said. “We were making the extra pass. We were driving a lot harder. We were getting out in transition. I thought we got some easy ones in transition. We’re always talking about having our defense create our offense and I thought we did that today.”
Evansville came into the game 0-3 in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play and 9-7 overall. The Purple Aces were picked to finish eighth out of 10 teams in the MVC preseason poll, but pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college basketball this season when they defeated then-No. 1-ranked University of Kentucky on the road Nov. 12.
The Purple Aces have been without head coach Walter McCarty since Dec. 27 when the university announced he was placed on administrative leave due to alleged Title IX violations. Bennie Seltzer, who was an assistant coach under Moser at Loyola from 2015-17, is currently serving as the interim head coach. Evansville was also missing sophomore forward DeAndre Williams, who leads the team with 16.9 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game, due to back spasms.
Loyola was preseason ranked fourth, they were one of six teams tied for first in the MVC coming in with a 2-1 record, 10-6 overall. The Ramblers lost their last game to Drake University 65-62 when they shot 43.9 percent from the field.
“Last game, we didn’t do too well on offense,” Uguak said. “Then, in practice, [Moser] kind of emphasized playing connected and moving the ball, and it showed in the game today.”
The game started off close with two different lead changes in the two minutes of the game. Loyola sophomore center Franklin Agunanne slammed home the first dunk of the night with 17:41 left in the first half.
From there, the Loyola had a strong defensive presence, holding the Purple Aces to 9-for-21 shooting in the first half. The last four minutes had the fans up on their feet as Loyola rattled off 13 straight points and back-to-back dunks. Kennedy led the offensive push and had two of the five dunks for the half.
“It really was the energy from the crowd [and] our teammates,” Kennedy said. “I just felt it and I know everyone else felt it. That really pumps you up. It’s when you can do crazy plays like that.”
The Ramblers headed to the locker room up 43-24. At the start of the second half, Evansville started with some momentum, outscoring Loyola 7-4 in the first four minutes after the break. Loyola got back in control and ended up shooting 65 percent for the half compared to the Purple Aces’ 36 percent.
Moser said many players had “outstanding” performances, including Skokna. He hadn’t played in the past three games and came out ready to play as he notched nine points, two rebounds and an assist.
“[Skokna’s] had some really good practices,” Moser said. “Some really good strong, aggressive, high energy practices. In my mind, I was thinking, ‘I’m going to put Bruno in there early,’ and he’s kept his mind right.”
Loyola is next scheduled to play Southern Illinois University Jan. 16 at Gentile at 7 p.m. The game is set to be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago.