Loyola senior center Cameron Krutwig going out with an injury didn’t phase the No. 21 Loyola men’s basketball team as it battled against Southern Illinois University to a 60-52 win Feb. 26. Sophomore guard Marquise Kennedy added much-needed energy off the bench to rally the Ramblers and lead the team with 16 points and five rebounds.
Coming into the game, Loyola tied for first in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) standings with Drake University. The team currently sits at No. 10 out of 345 NCAA Division I teams in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). The Ramblers also upheld the fifth longest home winning streak in Division I basketball with the Feb. 26 win.
Southern Illinois, however, came in at seventh in the MVC and No. 235 in the NET.
Despite starting the first half on an 11-0 run, Southern Illinois floundered after sophomore guard Lance Jones stopped hitting threes and started to falter defensively. The Salukis went from Jones’s 100 percent three-point shooting to scoreless over an 8 minute period.
Meanwhile, Kennedy found success on all fronts. In the first half alone he shot 4-for-7 and contributed some energy off the bench. If it wasn’t for Kennedy and senior guard Keith Clemons’ offensive prowess, the Ramblers’ sloppy defense might’ve got the best of them.
Loyola committed six turnovers in the first 20 minutes of play. Three of those were overshot passes to either Krutwig or redshirt senior forward Aher Uguak.
It wasn’t until 7 minutes into the game that Loyola was able to go on its own 12-0 run. Kennedy led the run with eight points and eventually helped the team take the lead for the first time with 9:28 left to go in the half.
Loyola head coach Porter Moser said the only reason the team was able to crawl back into the lead was because of its defense. The Ramblers stole the ball eight times in the first half alone.
“Our defense kept us in the game,” Moser said. “When a team gets out to that kind of a start, sometimes it can really hit you in the face. I thought our defense settled in, we climbed back and took the lead at halftime. Our defense has been the staple of our team and it was again tonight.”
Loyola held the Salukis to 36.4 percent shooting in the first half and went into the break up by nine points — the largest lead of the game at that point.
The Ramblers held the largest lead of 16 points six minutes into the half. While it seemed like Loyola had the obvious edge, Krutwig going down with 7:56 left in the game allowed Southern Illinois to battle back to make it a four-point game.
“Krut is the biggest key of our team,” Kennedy said. “We didn’t let that waiver our confidence or affect us really. He just told us, ‘Just go out there, keep playing, keep doing what you’re doing and we can pull this out.’ We did that for him tonight.”
When Krutwig went down, the Salukis saw a chance for an opening, but Loyola first-year center Jacob Hutson came in and immediately contributed to the game. He finished the game with four points, and one assist in five minutes of action.
“We had him ready,” Moser said. “We talked about [putting him in] because of the [Kyler] Filewich matchup and how physical he was. He was on the game plan. What a great story of being ready when called upon.”
Loyola held control for a majority of the second half — but the Salukis still outscored the Ramblers 32-31 in the half. Loyola’s defense was able to hold the Salukis down to cause eight turnovers and steal the ball four times. The Ramblers were able to turn that into six points.
Krutwig and Kennedy got into double-digit shooting early in the second half, as Southern Illinois sophomore guard Steven Verplancken Jr. attempted to chip away at Loyola’s lead. All 17 of Verplancken’s points — on 100 percent shooting — came during the second half.
Despite Krutwig going down midway through the half, the Ramblers were able to hold it together without Krutwig and win the game 60-52.
Despite neither team shooting over 45 percent in the second half, the teams managed to make the game interesting. Add three timeouts due to injury and it had Rambler fans at the edge of their seats.
Clemons and Jones got caught on each other and Jones had to get help off the court, but he eventually went back in. Kennedy also got bodied underneath the hoop and had to sit out for a few minutes, but he also returned. Krutwig went out and didn’t come back in, however, Moser said it was just cramps and he’ll be ready for tomorrow.
While Southern Illinois was finding success in three-point shooting, Loyola wasn’t as lucky. The Ramblers shot 18.5 percent from beyond-the-arc with Norris and Clemons able to connect. The Salukis managed to go 12-for-20.
“We’ve been guarding the three better than anyone in our league,” Moser said. “We have to guard the three better tomorrow night. There’s no question about it.”
Loyola and Southern Illinois are scheduled to tip off game two of their series Feb. 27. The game is set to be broadcast on ESPNU at 5 p.m.