The Missouri Valley Conference’s (MVC) biggest matchup of the year concluded with a 81-54 win for the No. 22 Loyola men’s basketball team (18-3, 13-1) following a stunning second-half comeback at Drake University Feb 13. After a close first half left the Ramblers trailing by three points, they hit the ground running after halftime to give them a 27-point victory.
Coming into the game, Loyola and Drake were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the MVC standings. Loyola and Drake were also No. 13 and No. 30 in the nation, respectively, according to the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). This made for one of the most highly anticipated mid-major matchups of the season.
Loyola was ranked as No. 22 by the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 poll Feb. 8, making the rankings for the first time in the regular season since 1985. Drake had been ranked at No. 25 Feb. 1, but fell out of the Top 25 the following week.
Three Loyola players scored in double figures, led by redshirt senior forward Aher Uguak with 20. Redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris and senior center Cameron Krutwig put up 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Loyola head coach Porter Moser said Uguak had an “unbelievable performance” against Drake Feb. 13.
“When he’s making baskets, finishing, shooting three, his confidence level is just going through the roof this year,” Moser said. “He’s very strong, athletic, he gives us a great dimension … and he played outstanding defense.”
Drake came into the game without its star scorer senior forward ShanQuan Hemphill, who was reportedly out with a broken foot and is scheduled to miss four weeks due to surgery. Hemphill had averaged 14.1 points per game until his injury. However, this loss didn’t stop Drake from leading the Ramblers through the first half.
Although the first half was a close one in terms of scoring, Drake held the lead over the Ramblers for nearly the entire half. Following a shot from Drake redshirt junior guard Roman Penn to put the Bulldogs up 4-2 at 18:45, the Ramblers didn’t take the lead until redshirt senior guard Tate Hall made two free-throws with 3:27 remaining.
However, the one-point edge wasn’t enough to keep the Ramblers safe, and Drake came up with a 5-0 run to take the first half 34-31.
Neither team managed a lead greater than five points the entire half, and the Ramblers suffered eight turnovers in the first half — double the amount Drake did.
Drake junior guard Garrett Sturtz said at this point in the game, he felt like he and his teammates were doing well and playing how their coach had planned.
“We knew what they were going to run for their defense and our offensive, so I think we really thought we were really steady and executing our game plan,” Sturtz said.
Moser said he thought it was a physical first half from Drake, and he told his players at halftime to keep playing hard and push through.
“We said, ‘They made some tough shots, it’s physical [on] both ends, we just gotta stay with it,’” Moser said. “I just didn’t want to panic and change up what we were doing.”
The second half proved to be a massive turning point for the Ramblers. Loyola took off on a 9-0 run to start the second half to give the visitors a six-point lead with 17:34 remaining — the largest lead of the game up until that point. Drake wasn’t able to get on the board until almost four minutes into the half.
By the first media timeout at 15:42, the Ramblers’ lead had stretched to nine points.
The first double-digit lead of the game came from Loyola with a free-throw from Uguak, and the shots just kept falling for the Ramblers. With 8:25 left to play, Loyola’s lead stretched to 20 points.
Loyola went on a 10-2 scoring run with 4:19 remaining, bringing the Ramblers up to a 27-point lead, and they eventually finished off the game 81-54.
This was Drake’s biggest loss so far this season after going undefeated until a 74-57 loss at Valparaiso University Feb. 7. The Ramblers’ winning streak now rises to 11 games.
Drake head coach Darian DeVries said he thought Loyola played a better game all around than Drake did. He said a few of his team’s mistakes — such as rebounds and turnovers — early in the second half started the Bulldogs off on the wrong foot.
“Once [Loyola] got rolling a little bit, we weren’t able to slow it down at all,” DeVries said. “I thought offensively early in the half we were able to get some good looks that we didn’t hit … once it got up into that 10, 12, 14 [point deficit] we just had a hard time scoring to keep up with them.”
Moser said he and his team will have to keep a strong mentality to prepare for a tough battle in the second game against Drake.
“[Drake] is a championship program, they’re extremely well-coached, they’ve got winner players,” Moser said. “[The Loyola players] are already talking about how they know tomorrow Drake is going to come at us … mentality, attitude, toughness are so key on game two’s.”
The second matchup of the two-game series is scheduled for Feb. 14 at 2 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.