For the fourth consecutive year, the Loyola men’s basketball team (5-2, 1-0) won its Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) home opener. This year’s victory came in the form of a 90-60 blowout against Illinois State University Dec. 27 at Gentile Arena.
Loyola and Illinois State are scheduled to play again Dec. 28 at Gentile Arena after the MVC altered its scheduling format to have games between two teams on back-to-back days at one location in an effort to limit travel and potential exposure to COVID-19.
Loyola head coach Porter Moser said his team can’t get caught up in the 30-point win and it doesn’t mean anything when the two teams tip off about 24 hours later. He added he likes his team’s depth with the new format of two games in two nights.
“Any coach will tell you, whether it’s one point, 10 points, 15, you put it in the bank, especially on back-to-back nights,” Moser said. “You can’t think about how much [the victory] was.”
This was the 17th matchup all-time between Loyola and Illinois State, and the 30-point margin of victory is the largest in series history. The Redbirds lead the series 9-8, but the Ramblers have now won seven of the last eight matchups. This was Loyola’s widest margin of victory in conference play since last year’s 78-44 win over the University of Evansville at Gentile Arena Jan. 11.
This season, the Ramblers are 4-0 at Gentile Arena and have won each of the four games by at least 28 points. However, two of those games came against non-Division I opponents in Lewis University and the University of St. Francis.
Senior guard Lucas Williamson led the Ramblers with a season-high 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Williamson has reached double figures in four of the Ramblers’ seven games this year. He says his offense is a product of Loyola’s ball movement and taking what the defense gives him.
“I just kind of take the open shots that I get,” Williamson said. “The way our offense is set up is that if I give the ball up, it might come back to me five times out of 10.”
Senior center Cameron Krutwig and sophomore forward Tom Welch also reached double figures, scoring 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Loyola once again came out strong after halftime. After leading by 16 at the break, Loyola opened the second half on a 21-3 run. In total, the Ramblers outscored the Redbirds 51-37 in the second half. This was the Ramblers’ third straight game with at least 49 points in the second half.
The Ramblers dominated near the basket. Loyola grabbed 37 rebounds compared to the Redbirds’ 22. Also, Loyola scored 40 points in the paint, while Illinois State managed just 16.
After the game, Illinois State head coach Dan Muller said his team has a lot of areas to improve upon following the blowout loss.
“Certainly there are a lot of mistakes we can correct,” Muller said. “But our guys struggle with adjustments, and Loyola is a team you have to prepare for on both ends with a lot of adjustments. We have to be able think on the fly better, also.”
After Krutwig had a pair of turnovers in the first four minutes, Moser said he was to-the-point with the big man. Moser said Krutwig’s ability to take criticism and make adjustments to his game is due in part to their relationship and also Krutwig’s maturity. The Algonquin native finished the half with 11 points and didn’t commit another turnover for the rest of the game.
“I brought him out and I said a couple direct things to him,” Moser said. “And we got such a great relationship, he knows there’s trust there. … He just settled down for a second and went back to his normal Krutwig self.”
Illinois State (3-4, 0-1) was picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the MVC preseason poll. Meanwhile, Loyola was tabbed second in the poll, trailing only the University of Northern Iowa.
The Ramblers followed up the 30-point victory with an 86-55 victory over Illinois State Dec. 29.
Jim Benson contributed to this report.