The Loyola men’s basketball team (4-2) pulled away from the University of St. Francis in the second half to win 92-55 at Gentile Arena Dec. 22. Sophomore forward Tom Welch finished with 17 points in his first start for the Ramblers.
St. Francis, located in Joliet, belongs to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The NAIA is comparable to the NCAA’s Division II.
St. Francis jumped out to a 12-3 lead early in the game, but Loyola responded with a 16-2 run to take a lead. The Ramblers weathered the storm after St. Francis’ early push to take a 43-30 lead into halftime.
“They came out and just played harder than us the first four or five minutes,” Loyola head coach Porter Moser said on St. Francis’ early lead. “I was more pleased with our defense after halftime than I was even the remainder of the first half. We weren’t doing everything at the level we needed to do it at, whether it’s switching, ball screen defenses, rebounding down.”
Moser individually praised St. Francis’ senior guard Eric Ting for his quickness with the ball. Ting finished with 16 points and was the only Saint to reach double figures.
Loyola dominated the second half, outscoring the Saints 49-25. After shooting 3-for-5 from three-point territory in the first half, the Saints were just 2-for-11 in the second half. The Ramblers also heavily outrebounded St. Francis after halftime, grabbing 17 boards and limiting the Saints to five.
The Ramblers rarely missed against the Saints, shooting 68.8 percent. In the previous five games this season, the Ramblers shot 50.2 percent. Loyola’s hot shooting extended beyond the three-point line, with the Ramblers connecting on 63.2 percent of their attempts. That’s way up from the still-respectable 38.3 percent Loyola averaged in its first five games.
The Ramblers were short handed against the Saints. Loyola was without senior center Cameron Krutwig, redshirt senior guard Keith Clemons, junior forward Franklin Agunanne, redshirt sophomore guard Cooper Kaifes and sophomore guard Marquise Kennedy.
Krutwig was in uniform on the bench but didn’t see any action because he was resting, according to Moser. He also said Clemons, Kaifes and Kennedy were “resting some injuries.” Moser said Agunanne is still “a ways away” from returning from a knee injury, but had his first live practice Dec. 21.
“I was thinking about guys getting minutes, getting confidence,” Moser said. “Seeing the ball go in, getting minutes, getting exposure. Sometimes it’s hard in these games that are possession by possession to let someone play through a lot of mistakes. Freshmen need to be able to play through a lot of mistakes, and tonight we were able to do that a little bit.”
First-year center Jacob Hutson and junior forward Damezi Anderson both played their first games for the Ramblers after they both recently became eligible. Anderson was able to play after the NCAA ruled on granting immediate eligibility to transfers, and Hutson received an individual waiver from the NCAA after expecting to redshirt as a walk-on this season. Hutson scored 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting over 20 minutes of action, while Anderson logged seven minutes and scored five points.
Welch, who started in place of Krutwig, said he was confident stepping into a starting role for the first time in his Loyola career.
“We’re such a deep team that we need everyone to be able to play together well,” Welch said. “That’ll help us in the conference. I was just confident and my game kind of got going and it just kept working.”
Welch and Hutson were two of five Ramblers to reach double figures. First-year guard Baylor Hebb scored a career-high 17 points. Redshirt seniors Aher Uguak and Tate Hall were the other double digit scorers, putting up 11 and 10, respectively.
Against the Saints, Welch shot 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. Over 28 games last season, Welch only attempted six total three-pointers, connecting on two of them. The Naperville native said outside shooting was something he worked on during the offseason.
“[Krutwig] is great down low in the post, and maybe that’s not my specialty,” Welch said. “So this offseason, I’ve really been working on being able to stretch the floor when Krut comes out and I come in the game, give the other team a different look and stretch them out. I think it’s been working pretty well this season.”
This was the last non-conference game on the Ramblers’ schedule this year. Next, Loyola is scheduled to start conference play against Illinois State University Dec. 27 at Gentile Arena. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago.