The Loyola women’s basketball team (10-3, 1-1) hung on to defeat Southern Illinois University (SIU) 51-49 at Gentile Arena Sunday afternoon. Loyola’s Abby O’Connor scored a game-high 16 points to go along with seven rebounds.
The Ramblers held SIU’s junior guard Makenzie Silvey — the leading scorer in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) — to just two points on 1-for-10 shooting. This was the first time Silvey was held to single-digits this year.
Loyola head coach Kate Achter said the team was able to shutdown Silvey and win the game largely due to the defensive impact of junior guard Ellie Rice.
“We don’t beat [SIU] without Ellie Rice’s effort,” Achter said. “Makenzie Silvey, we have so much respect for [her] as a player. … We really concentrated on team-defending her and Ellie led the charge. She’s such a tough kid.”
Rice said it took the entire team to prevent Silvey from scoring. She added that SIU often ran Silvey around screen to try to free her up for shots, but Loyola’s overall team defense was able to counter that.
“They ran a lot of screen actions for her,” Rice said. “I relied heavily on my teammates when I would get hit [by a screen] or she would come off [a screen]. … And then just rebounding when she did get a shot off was a big key.”
Achter’s squad started the game strong, leading 23-12 with 3:37 remaining in the second quarter. However, the Salukis were far from defeated. SIU ended the second quarter on a 6-0 run to make it a five-point Loyola lead at halftime.
The two teams traded buckets throughout the third quarter, but the Salukis once again ended the quarter strong. SIU went on an 8-0 run to finish the third quarter and tie the game at 34 heading into the final period.
Loyola found itself down by three when Achter called a timeout with 6:52 left in the contest. The Ramblers responded by going on a 9-0 run in the following minutes to take the lead 44-38 with 2:59 remaining.
“I just reassured them,” Achter said. “‘Do what we do. You have been here what seems like a million times before. Have the confidence to get through it, because you’ve found success before.’”
The Salukis had a chance to tie or take the lead in the final seconds against Loyola, but the Ramblers suffocated SIU’s final offensive possession and didn’t allow them to attempt a shot.
Last game, the Ramblers lost at the buzzer in overtime against then-No. 21 Missouri State University 74-72.
Loyola emerged victorious despite racking up 20 turnovers, their second-highest mark of the season behind the 28-turnover loss to then-No. 16-ranked DePaul University Dec. 20.
The Ramblers also had a season-low seven assists against the Salukis. Achter said she wasn’t sure how the team still won with the ball movement issues but pointed back to the team’s defense as the deciding factor.
“I really don’t know,” Achter said. “With us turning the ball over 20 times, I think it speaks so much to Ellie’s effort on Makenzie Silvey, like our team effort there. We held [SIU] to 37 percent shooting from the floor. That’s the only thing that saved us. That, and we outrebounded them.”
Loyola grabbed 37 rebounds and held the Salukis to just 30 boards — nine below their season average.
The Salukis were picked to finish fifth in the MVC preseason poll while Loyola was tabbed to come in seventh out of 10 teams. Coming into the game, SIU was ranked No. 59, according to the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) — which ranks all teams based on wins, loses and strength of schedule. The Ramblers checked in at No. 122 out of 351 teams.
This was Loyola’s most impressive victory of the season, according to RPI, with the next closest being No. 136 Bowling Green State University Dec. 16.
Next, the Ramblers are set to travel to Indiana and play Evansville University Jan. 10. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. on ESPN+.