For the second time in as many nights, the Loyola men’s basketball team (6-2, 2-0) eased past Illinois State University at Gentile Arena. The Ramblers followed up a 30-point victory Dec. 27 with an 86-55 win Dec. 28.
The Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) altered its conference scheduling this season to have both matchups between schools take place on back-to-back days at the same location. This limits teams’ travel and potential exposure to COVID-19, according to the MVC.
In the second game against Illinois State, Loyola senior center Cameron Krutwig went down with an apparent leg injury with 7:40 remaining in the game. Krutwig eventually walked off the court under his own power, but he didn’t check back into the game. He finished with 22 points on 11-for-15 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists.
After the game, Krutwig said it was just a cramp and not anything unusual or serious. He said he just needed to “roll it out and get some fluids,” and he wasn’t concerned about the shorter recovery period between games this season.
“I’ve gotten cramps before, I think I just need to stay hydrated more during and throughout the day,” Krutwig said when asked if the back-to-back games affected the injury. “Obviously, the back-to-back might’ve played a little bit into it, but I actually felt pretty good today to start.”
Marquise Kennedy also went down with an ankle injury with 4:16 left to play. Loyola’s trainers helped Kennedy walk off the court, but later Kennedy could be seen walking around the sideline on his own. Kennedy didn’t return to the court, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds.
After the game, Loyola head coach Porter Moser said Kennedy re-injured an ankle which has caused him to miss some time earlier this season. However, Moser didn’t seem concerned about Kennedy missing additional time due to the injury.
“[Kennedy] just rolled the same ankle, he said he’ll be fine,” Moser said. “He’s walking on it. He just tweaked it, rolled it. … We’re going to give him a couple days rest now anyways after these back-to-backs. I think it’s going to be very short-term.”
The Ramblers have about a week to mend, with their next games against Bradley University Jan. 3 and 4 in Peoria.
Loyola joins Drake University (11-0, 2-0) as the only teams to start MVC play with a pair of victories. Bradley and Valparaiso University were supposed to play each other Dec. 27 and 28, but their games were postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test in Valparaiso’s program.
In the second matchup against the Redbirds, Krutwig came out of the gates firing, scoring eight points in just over five minutes to start the game. Overall, the Ramblers dominated the first half, outscoring the Redbirds 40-22. Loyola assisted on 14 of its 16 field goals in the first half.
“I was proud of how we moved the ball and spaced it. But it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination,” Moser said. “I thought [the Redbirds] were more physical today than they were yesterday. … But we’ve been pretty efficient. That’s what we do, we’ve been doing it for a handful of years now — moving it, sharing it and spacing it.”
The Ramblers didn’t let up in the second half, outpacing Illinois State 46-33 in the period. Loyola forced Illinois State into 17 turnovers for the game, including 11 in the second half. Moser said the back-to-back games are going to be “mentally and physically challenging all year.”
Redshirt senior forward Tate Hall was the third Rambler to score in double figures. Hall finished with 16 points, five rebounds and four assists.
After struggles last year and earlier this season from the free throw line, Loyola shot 14-for-16 from the charity stripe in the second matchup against the Redbirds. Coming into the game, Hall had gone 4-for-15 from the free throw line, but he sank five of his six attempts against Illinois State.
Loyola improves to 5-0 at Gentile Arena, winning each game by at least 28 points. However, two of those games were against non-Division I opponents and two were against Illinois State — which was picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the MVC preseason poll. Loyola was picked to finish second in the poll.
The Ramblers are scheduled to travel to Peoria to face Bradley Jan. 3 at 5 p.m. The game is set to be broadcast on ESPNU.