Bringing its winning streak to the double-digits, the Loyola men’s basketball team (17-3, 11-1) completed its sweep of University of Evansville 69-58 Feb. 7 at Gentile Arena. After Drake fell to Valparaiso 74-57 during the Loyola game, the Ramblers’ 10th straight win pushed them to No. 1 in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC).
Loyola redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris led the Ramblers with 19 points. Norris was one of four Ramblers to break double-digits in the Feb. 7 matchup alongside senior center Cameron Krutwig, redshirt senior forward Aher Uguak and senior guard Keith Clemons.
Uguak recorded his first double-double of the season, scoring 14 points and grabbing a season-high 11 rebounds. Norris said Uguak has been a huge key to the Ramblers so far this season.
“What [Uguak] can do defensively on-ball and off-ball is incredible,” Norris said. “Just unreal, [he] plays hard for forty minutes, never takes possession off, it’s really impressive what he’s bringing to our team right now.”
Krutwig put the first points on the board to start the game 3-0 for the Ramblers. Evansville kept close behind, forcing six Loyola turnovers in five minutes. The Ramblers eventually took off to bring them to a 13-point lead with 4:21 left in the half.
The Ramblers kept up momentum to finish the half with a shot from first-year guard Baylor Hebb and a score of 30-17.
Although Evansville greatly outshot Loyola from three-point territory, the Aces failed to succeed on sinking shots. The Ramblers only made one of their two attempts, but the Aces connected three out of 11 total. The Purple Aces only managed 7-for-23 shooting from the field for the first half while Loyola went 11-for-20.
Loyola also went 7-for-11 from the free throw line while Evansville didn’t even attempt a free throw.
The first half was riddled with turnovers — Loyola and Evansville both tallied 10 each. Norris said his team was playing too quickly in the first half, setting them up for trouble.
“Especially in transitions, [we were] just not making the right decisions, kind of rushing ourselves,” Norris said. “That’s uncharacteristic of us, so we knew we had to turn it around in the second half and that’s what we did.”
Despite the second half began with a slow start, Evansville went on a 10-2 run with 16:36 in the half to close the gap. The lead eventually dropped to 40-34 by the 12:00 mark, while Loyola went through a four-minute scoring drought from the field.
Krutwig connected a layup at 10:38 to snap the Ramblers out of the stretch. The tide changed for Loyola as it took off on a 7-0 run, carrying the lead back up to 11 points by the 8:10 timeout.
The lead never dropped below four points for the remainder of the game. After making six free throws in the final two minutes, the Ramblers took the game 69-58.
Throughout the game, Evansville shot 9-for-9 from the free throw line, while Loyola went 22-for-30.
Moser said he had talked to his players about taking care of the ball following the 10 first-half turnovers — the Ramblers proceeded to only score five in the second half. He said the team focused on not panicking and playing well through each possession.
“We wanted to stay aggressive, keep running our stuff,” Moser said. “They’re very, very hard to guard … and that’s hard the way they do it. We just wanted to play possession by possession and have good possessions.”
Coming into the game, the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) — a ranking system used to help determine at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament — ranked Loyola at No. 14 and Evansville at No. 238 out of 347 Division I teams.
The Ramblers are scheduled to play their next series against former MVC No. 1 Drake University. Drake’s undefeated streak ended during the Ramblers’ game as the Bulldogs fell 74-57 at Valparaiso University.
The first game of the series between Loyola and Drake is slated for Feb. 13 in Des Moines, Iowa with tip-off at 11 a.m. It’s scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN2.