Sophomore guard Marquise Kennedy came off the bench to boost the Loyola men’s basketball team (13-3, 8-1) to a 65-58 win against Bradley University Jan. 25 in Peoria. After beating the Braves yesterday, the Ramblers completed the sweep and headed back to Chicago on a high note.
A series of clutch plays in the second half allowed Loyola to pull ahead from a four-point deficit at the half. Loyola sophomore forward Tom Welch rejected a jump shot by Bradley sophomore guard Sean East with 15:39 left in the game. This play would end up being the turning point for the Ramblers as they used the energy to pull off a 8-3 run, eventually allowing Loyola to take the lead.
Much like the Braves in the first half of the Jan. 24 game, Loyola was stifled by its opponent’s defense. Bradley went on an 8-0 run to start the game and it wasn’t until 16:30 that Loyola redshirt senior guard Keith Clemons was able to break the Braves’ streak with a three-pointer.
The Ramblers struggled to connect on their shots, going 8-for-23 overall and 6-for-18 from beyond the arc in the first half. Bradley’s defense forced 10 first-half turnovers and held Loyola’s senior center Cameron Krutwig to just three points.
Despite inching closer and closer to the Braves throughout the majority of the first half, Loyola wasn’t able to tie the game until 4:14. Clemons hit a clutch three-pointer to bring the score to 24-24 as the shot clock winded down to zero.
Using the homecourt to its advantage, Bradley quickly took the lead back and headed into halftime with the 29-25 edge.
Even though they went into the locker room with down four points, Loyola head coach Porter Moser said the Ramblers didn’t have their heads down.
“We were always hanging around,” Moser said. “It’s key that even though we were missing shots, we didn’t let them get a huge separation. If you can hang around then you have a chance. We always stayed within striking distance.”
The second half began much like the first, with Bradley going on a 8-2 run before the Rambler defense stepped up. With over 15 minutes left to play, Welch blocked East’s shot — a play which ended up being a turning point for the Ramblers.
Kickstarted by a jump shot from Kennedy, Loyola went on a 7-1 run. Kennedy then stole the ball, drew a foul and hit both of his free throws to put the Ramblers within three points of the Braves.
“Right there I just felt like the whole momentum shift for the whole team,” Kennedy said. “Once I got that steal everybody got hype and the whole team’s energy lifted. We just took over from there.”
It wasn’t until redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris hit a three-point shot with 5:26 left in the game that Loyola was able to tie it up for the second time that game. Clemons added his own three to take the lead — the Ramblers’ first of the game.
Bradley’s downfall came due to its turnovers. The Braves had 18 over the two halves, which Loyola was able to turn into 15 points.
In addition, Bradley had what head coach Brian Wardle called “careless fouls.” Braves’ senior forward Elijah Childs got into foul trouble early in the second half. Wardle elected to pull him with 12:36 left in the game to prevent a foul out — he didn’t return to the floor until 5:36. At the time, Childs was leading the Braves in scoring.
Bradley’s junior guard Terry Nolan Jr. finished the game with a team-high 17 points, but also found himself in foul trouble. Nolan fouled out with 11 seconds left in the game.
Despite its efforts, in the last four minutes of the game, Bradley was never able to overcome Loyola again. Senior guard Lucas Williamson’s steal with 11.4 seconds, and the two free throws that followed, sealed the 65-58 win for the Ramblers.
“Loyola is just better than us right now, they just are,” Wardle said immediately following the game.
Loyola’s bench players contributed heavily to the Ramblers’ second win over the Braves. Kennedy headlined the game, but Welch added a defensive lift, redshirt senior guard Tate Hall added some much needed momentum and redshirt sophomore guard Cooper Kaifes contributed an uplifting three-point shot.
Players off the bench made up 34 of Loyola’s 65 points. Conversely, Bradley’s bench only added 14 points.
“That group with Tommy, Marquise, and Cooper brought us some great energy,” Moser said. “When you’re down and you’re not playing well, that’s what you need. You need some energy.”
Clemons was Loyola’s second leading scorer with 15 points, all of which were three-pointers. Krutwig — who came into the game averaging 15.3 points per game — was held to a season-low 7 points. Moser called this “a testament to Bradley’s physicality.”
Loyola has a challenging slate in the upcoming weeks, with both Missouri State University and Drake University — who are third and first in the MVC, respectively — on its horizon. Wardle said it’ll be a huge showing for Loyola.
“The Valley is good this year,” Wardle said. “Honestly, I don’t know how good Drake is yet. They had a good start. That Loyola team, that’s an NCAA Tournament team right there.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to travel to Missouri State Jan. 31 with tip-off set for 2 p.m. The game is set to be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.