The Loyola men’s basketball team (1-0) cruised to a 76-48 victory over Division II Lewis University Dec. 5 at Gentile Arena. Redshirt senior guard Tate Hall led the Ramblers in their season opener with 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
The Ramblers dominated the Flyers in the first half, outscoring Lewis 39-11. The Flyers found some offense after halftime, but couldn’t cut into the deficit with each team scoring 37 second-half points.
Loyola head coach Porter Moser said his team was excited to play but he wasn’t sure what to expect since the team didn’t play an exhibition game and had taken three weeks off due to COVID-19.
“The guys were just so antsy to play,” Moser said. “I was happy with how we came out. I was happy with how we guarded early.”
The atmosphere in Gentile Arena was different from normal men’s basketball games. Fans are not permitted to attend home games due to COVID-19. Moser said he missed the fans and “there’s nothing like” the energy of the Gentile Arena crowd.
“I miss the people,” Moser said. “I miss walking out and seeing the students. I miss seeing the families, I miss seeing my family. But that’s all part of it. We’ve got to adapt and adjust. … How do you adjust? You’ve got to crest your own energy and I thought our bench was really loud.”
Loyola senior guard Lucas Williamson was the only other Rambler, besides Hall, to score in double figures, putting up 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting.
“It was just fun to be out there,” Williamson said. “My teammates did a good job of putting me in great situations where all I had to do was just knock down a shot.”
Despite only two players reaching double digits, the Ramblers had 11 players score at least one point against Lewis. Moser said the depth of the team is a strength, but also said the team is still working to get conditioning back after battling COVID.
“It’s the most depth we’ve had,” Moser said. “One thing you have to balance as a coach when you have depth is the minutes. If you ask some [players], they want to play the whole half, but it’s a strength by staying fresh and just coming in waves. … I’ll be honest with you, our conditioning is not even remotely back yet.”
Moser said the team has had just three full practices after it went on pause due to COVID-19. He said there’s no real way to simulate actual games and the pressure that comes with them. He said he’s excited because the team can “get a lot better in a lot of areas” once the players are better conditioned and in the flow of the season.
Redshirt sophomore Cooper Kaifes returned to the court after missing all of last season with a torn labrum. The sharpshooting guard sank three of his four three-point attempts against the Flyers.
Redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris started in his first game with the Ramblers. Norrus transferred from Oakland University and sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Norris scored nine points on 3-for-3 shooting. He also dished out five assists without committing a turnover.
“I have a high level of trust with Braden,” Moser said. “He was the most efficient player on the floor, by far. Defensively, I’ll watch the film, but I already know he’ll grade out as having the fewest breakdowns.”
While Loyola returned all five starters from last season, Norris replaced redshirt senior guard Keith Clemons as a starter against Lewis. Moser didn’t make much of the lineup change and said Clemons has been battling an ankle injury. Moser said Clemons tweaked his ankle earlier in the week and the team is monitoring his ankle and left knee. Clemons still logged 13 minutes and added a point and four assists in the season opener.
Junior center Franklin Agunanne was out against the Flyers and is still two weeks away from returning following knee surgery, according to Moser.
In the second half against the Flyers, sophomore guard Marquise Kennedy went down with an apparent ankle injury. After the game, Moser said Kennedy sprained an ankle two-and-a-half weeks before the team paused because of COVID-19. He said he wasn’t sure if today’s injury was to the same ankle, but kept him out for the rest of the game as a precaution.
The Ramblers’ game against the Flyers was a last-minute addition to the schedule. Loyola didn’t announce the game until Dec. 3. Williamson said the short notice wasn’t too difficult because Loyola has a lot of veteran guys.
“It was kind of like a tournament setting,” Williamson said. “In a tournament, you never really know who you’re gonna play until maybe two days before and that’s kind of like what happened [against Lewis].”
Lewis was led by sophomore guard Artese Stapleton, who scored 18 points on 8-for-17 shooting, and junior forward Bruno Williams, who had a game-high 19 points on 6-for-16 shooting.
The next game on Loyola’s schedule is a home contest against Chicago State University Dec. 9. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago.