A strong second half propelled the Loyola men’s basketball team (12-6, 3-1) to a victory over Southern Illinois University (SIU) 64-48 at Gentile Arena Thursday night. This was the first return to Gentile for Salukis head coach Bryan Mullins — who served on Porter Moser’s staff for six years.
The build-up for the game between the Ramblers and the Salukis included one of the biggest storylines this season for Loyola. SIU head coach Bryan Mullins was on Moser’s staff for six years, including last season as associate head coach for the Ramblers.
“This place means a lot to me,” Mullins said after the game. “It’s great to see some people I haven’t seen in a long time. [But] when the game started, it was just like every game I’ve coached so far.”
One aspect that the Salukis managed to limit was Loyola junior center and Cameron Krutwig, who finished with eight points and eight rebounds. The preseason MVC Player of the Year didn’t score until there was 1:32 remaining in the first half.
Without Krutwig reaching his season-average mark of 16 points per game, first-year guard Marquise Kennedy stepped up to lead the Ramblers with 17 points off the bench. This was Kennedy’s second-straight game leading the Ramblers in scoring despite not getting the starting nod, after putting up 20 points against the University of Evansville Jan. 11.
“I think that was definitely the best thing to do for me,” Kennedy said on accepting a move to the bench. “I feel like I was very pressured [as a starter]. Keith [Clemons] coming back and just being able to see a veteran point guard out there on the court just helps so much.”
Loyola head coach Porter Moser praised SIU’s defense, which had allowed the fewest points per game in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) entering the game at 60.6. Loyola ranked second-best, allowing an average of 61.8 points per game.
“[SIU] is so physical, they do a great job defensively,” Moser said. “They really make a wall in transition. … It was one of those things where we had to just keep chipping away at them.”
The Salukis frequently double-teamed Krutwig throughout the game. Krutwig dished out five assists but turned the ball over four times. Mullins praised Krutwig’s passing ability, saying that was something the Salukis had to live with in an effort to keep the big man from scoring.
“He’s a dominant player in this league, and you have to pick and choose what you’re willing to give up,” Mullins said. “Just obviously knowing the roster and being familiar with Cam, I knew some of his tendencies.”
As for Loyola, the Ramblers carried a narrow 31-26 lead into halftime. They pulled away in the second half, highlighted by an 11-0 run in the middle of the period.
The Ramblers shot much better than SIU, especially from beyond the arc. Loyola connected on 6-of-12 attempts from downtown, while the Salukis went 5-for-26 from 3-point territory.
“I thought we guarded really well,” Moser said. “I loved how we had 18 assists and nine turnovers.”
In the MVC preseason poll, Loyola was tabbed to finish fourth out of 10 teams in the conference. The Salukis were picked to finish last.
The NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) ranks teams and is used to determine at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament. Entering the game, Loyola checked in at No. 117, while SIU was ranked No. 203, according to NET.
Next, Loyola is set to travel to Normal, Illinois to take on Illinois State University Jan. 19. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 3 p.m. on ESPNU.