After nearly relinquishing a 14-point second-half lead, the Loyola men’s basketball team (16-7, 8-4) held on for a 70-68 victory over Valparaiso University at Gentile Arena Sunday afternoon.
The Ramblers were up 66-52 with 7:54 left in the game, but Valparaiso opened up a 16-3 run to cut the Loyola lead to 69-68 with 40 seconds left. Loyola junior center Cameron Krutwig was fouled with 10.9 seconds remaining and went to the free throw line for two shots. He made the first one, but missed the second one out of a Valparaiso timeout.
As Valparaiso sophomore guard Javon Freeman-Liberty brought the ball up the court, Loyola first-year guard Marquise Kennedy risked a foul and knocked the ball away. The refs didn’t call a foul, the ball bounced down the court and went out of bounds after time expired. The Ramblers held on.
After the game, Kennedy said it was worth taking the chance — even though Loyola head coach Porter Moser said they’d “talk about that later.”
“It was a big gamble,” Kennedy said. “I [saw] him hesitate with the ball and it looked like he was not focusing on me, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to reach and get the steal. And it worked.”
From the other side, Freeman-Liberty said he thought Kennedy fouled him.
“There was contact,” Freeman-Liberty said. “But I’m not a ref.”
As for the rest of the game, Kennedy provided 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting and six rebounds off the bench. Krutwig led the way with 20 points.
The Ramblers shot 58.7 percent from the field — including 64.7 percent in the second half — but didn’t make a shot in the final 6:03 of regulation. They also shot 9-for-21 from the free throw line, their lowest percentage of the season since going 1-for-3 against Furman University Nov. 8.
Moser said although the players work on clutch free throws in practice, they didn’t fully execute against Valparaiso.
“We missed two front ends in the first half, two front ends in the second half, a couple back-to-backs,” Moser said. “We just didn’t, obviously, finish it off from the free throw line, giving them another opportunity.”
A crowd of 4,622 was on hand for the game, 341 away from a sellout. The atmosphere was still electric, though, and Valparaiso head coach Matt Lottich said despite how loud it was, he was proud of how his team clawed back into the game.
“This is a really tough environment to come in and play, and I thought we had our backs against the wall a couple times,” Lottich said. “I thought we got stops when we needed to, we hit shots when we needed to and we had the ball down two with an opportunity to tie it or to win it. Unfortunately, [it] just didn’t go our way.”
The Ramblers now sit at 16-9 overall and 8-4 in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play, which puts them alone in third place with six games remaining. Valparaiso falls to 12-13 overall and is tied for eighth in the MVC standings at 5-7 in conference action.
Loyola is next scheduled to head to the University of Evansville Feb. 12. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST on ESPN+.