Despite a close first half, the Loyola men’s basketball team (19-9, 10-4) sailed past Illinois State University 84-69 at Gentile Arena Wednesday night. Loyola junior guard Tate Hall led the charge with a season high 28 points with junior center Cameron Krutwig the next closest at 13 points.
What could have been an easy game for the Ramblers ended up being closer than expected. Illinois State came into the game 8-18 overall and 3-11 in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play. The Redbirds had yet to win a game away from Redbird Arena, but at the end of the first half, it looked like they had a chance.
The two Illinois teams traded the lead back and forth in the first half. Illinois State was dominating beyond the arc with 12 of 38 points coming from three-point territory alone.
Defensively, the Redbirds were able to hold Krutwig scoreless until five minutes into the game. The Ramblers couldn’t catch a break against Illinois State’s two first-year guards DJ Horne and Antonio Reeves.
Loyola head coach Porter Moser said a combination of the “strong and confident” Redbird guards and slow ball movement by the Ramblers is why they went into the half down 38-36.
“The first couple possessions in the zone we were good,” Moser said. “Then we were a little stagnant, just trying to force it a little too much on the first or second pass. Not moving the ball around. We were staring at it.”
Heading into the second half, it was again a slow start for Loyola. The Ramblers trailed behind the Redbirds up until Krutwig hit a layup to put Loyola up by two.
The biggest change of pace came in the seventh minute of the second half. Loyola redshirt junior guard Aher Uguak went up for a shot and was blocked by Illinois State redshirt freshman forward Abdou Ndiaye and then again by redshirt senior Jaycee Hillsman.
Loyola senior guard Bruno Skokna — who got cleared to play after sitting out for a week with a concussion — grabbed the rebound and passed it to junior guard Keith Clemons, who hit a three.
“That 50-50 ball was a big play,” Moser said. “I know Bruno came in and he knocked down a three in the first half, but that 50-50 ball came at a great time and we’re always talking about intangible plays. That was an intangible play.”
From that moment on, Loyola held the lead. There were a couple moments where Illinois State got close to the Ramblers, but then after struggling to find success beyond the arc all season, Loyola started hitting threes one after another.
The Ramblers went 12-for-23 from the three-point line, 10 of which were in the second half alone. Hall tallied four of those 12, hitting three in succession and walking away from the line shaking his head in disbelief as Loyola went up by 10 points.
“I was just laughing,” Hall said. “I was so wide open. I just hit three in a row. I’m just having fun playing.”
Hall’s success at the three translated to junior guard Lucas Williamson, who dropped two back-to-back threes immediately after Hall’s final one.
“Once one or two guys start making a couple, the other guys start to feel really good,” Krutwig said. “Suddenly, the ball starts to go in more.”
According to Moser, with the 58.5 percent overall shooting and better ball movement the Ramblers were able to seal the deal and win the game.
The Ramblers are next scheduled to play Missouri State University Feb. 22 at 2:30 p.m. in Springfield, Missouri. The game is set to be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.