The Loyola women’s basketball team (3-3, 1-1) bounced back with a 59-52 victory against Indiana State University Jan. 2 after losing the first game against the Sycamores the day prior to start Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play.
After the conference-opening loss, Loyola head coach Kate Achter said she issued a challenge to her players to step-up and provide value even when shots aren’t falling.
“Last night when we talked about playing today, we talked about the intangibles,” Achter said.
She said to her players: “‘If you’re not scoring the basketball, what are you bringing to the floor for us and why should I put you out there?’”
Achter and the Ramblers got another shot at the Sycamores a day later as part of the MVC’s new scheduling plan of playing back-to-back games against the same opponent to limit travel in response to COVID-19.
Sophomore guard Anna Brown was a surprising hero for the Ramblers in the victory. She tied a season-high with 12 points — just the third time she’s reached double figures in her Loyola career.
Following the Jan. 1 loss, Achter said she was disappointed with her team’s energy level. Brown said she thought that was a big difference in the team’s second matchup.
“We really learned that when things are down, you have to go pick each other up and keep doing the extra little things like high-fiving and everything on the court,” Brown said. “I think yesterday we kind of went away from that because we were kind of frustrated.”
With the help of Brown, Loyola scored 32 points off the bench in the victory. Achter said her squad’s production outside of the starters was crucial in the game. In the Jan. 1 loss to the Sycamores, Loyola managed just six points from non-starters compared to Indiana State’s 36.
“I thought Jala [Johnson’s] minutes off the bench were really great, I thought Kaylen Evans was unbelievable today,” Achter said. “[Indiana State’s] bench outscored ours by quite a bit yesterday and today we won that battle. I’m really proud of our group.”
Sophomore guard Jala Johnson finished with nine points, including hitting a pair of free throws to extend Loyola’s lead to five points with a minute remaining in the game. Kaylen Evans scored six points in 21 minutes of action off the pine — both are season-highs for the first-year guard.
Junior forward Allison Day was the second Rambler to score in double figures, adding 12 points and six rebounds.
Loyola held a one-point halftime edge over the Sycamores, but Indiana State jumped out to a five-point lead midway through the third quarter. Brown responded by hitting three three-pointers in the span of three minutes to put Loyola back in front.
After leading by four points heading into the final period, the Ramblers stretched their lead to eight points with 6:38 remaining in the game. However, Loyola would miss its next seven field goal attempts. This allowed the Sycamores to get within two points of Loyola, but the Ramblers went 5-for-6 from the free throw line in the closing minutes to fend off Indiana State.
While the margin fluctuated, Loyola led for the rest of the game after Brown’s third three-pointer put the Ramblers up by two points with 2:02 left in the third quarter.
“Especially coming off the bench, it’s big to come in and change momentum,” Brown said about her third quarter performance. “Since we’re not shooting as well as we want right now … any outside shot that’s a knock-down three is a huge momentum change for us.”
After Brown went 1-for-5 from three-point territory in the first game against the Sycamores, Achter said it was a rough film session but credited the Waukee, Iowa native for responding to the tough criticism.
“It wasn’t exactly what we had wanted from her performance wise [in the first game], but she really stepped up to the plate,” Achter said. “Players can go either way with that. They can either sulk and feel sorry for themselves, or they can be like ‘Yeah, I gotta be better than that’ and that’s what Anna did.”
Brown shot 3-for-5 from downtown in the second game against Indiana State, while the rest of Loyola shot a combined 2-for-14 from three-point territory. As a team, the Ramblers shot 2-for-18 from beyond the arc in the first matchup against the Sycamores.
Achter said she likes the quality of shots her team is taking and is confident that as the season progresses, her team will start making more of them.
“Today we made extra-pass jumpshots,” Achter said. “Swing the ball, swing the ball, catch and shoot. We had a lot of those looks, and as the season wears on, we’re going to knock them down.”
After turning the ball over 21 times in the loss to Indiana State, the Ramblers cut back their giveaways to 12 in the second game. However, Loyola forced the Sycamores into 20 turnovers — three more than the first matchup.
The Ramblers are scheduled to travel to Springfield, Missouri to take on No. 24 Missouri State University Jan. 8 and 9. The Lady Bears were picked to finish first in the MVC preseason poll.
Missouri State (4-2, 0-0) has yet to play an MVC game after its series against the University of Northern Iowa was postponed due to positive COVID-19 test results in the Lady Bear program. A Loyola Athletics spokesperson said the series between Loyola and Missouri State is expected to take place as scheduled “dependent on no further positives for [Missouri State].” Tip-off for the first game between Loyola and Missouri State is set for 7 p.m.