For the second year in a row, the matchup at Gentile Arena between No. 22 Loyola men’s basketball (19-4, 16-2) and Valparaiso University came down to the final play in regulation. And for the second time in as many years, Loyola narrowly came out on top, this time by a score of 54-52 Feb. 17.
With 13 seconds remaining in a two-point ballgame, Valparaiso had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. Valparaiso sophomore forward Ben Krikke missed a midrange jump shot with the seconds ticking away, and a foul was called on Valparaiso’s Goodnews Kpegeol as he went for the rebound with a single second remaining on the clock. Loyola managed to inbound the ball safely to seal the win.
With multiple lead changes and neither team holding a double-digit advantage at any point, Loyola head coach Porter Moser called it a “Valley grind game.”
The victory for Loyola came after a 36-point win over Valparaiso on the road Jan. 20. With the Feb. 17 victory, Loyola extends its home winning streak to 20 games — the fifth-longest streak in the country.
Entering the game, Loyola’s NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) ranking was the best in the MVC and Valpo’s was the worst out of the 10 teams in the conference. Loyola entered the game ranked No. 10 out of 347 Division I teams in the NET, while Valpo was ranked No. 236.
Despite being the heavy favorite at home, Loyola came out of the gates struggling offensively. Valparaiso led for over 16 of the 20 first-half minutes. After a three-pointer by first-year guard Sheldon Edwards gave the Brown and Gold a 9-7 lead with 15:07 left in the half, neither team scored a point until the 10:00 mark when Krikke made a layup.
As the Ramblers trailed 15-9 with 8:13 left in the half, Moser subbed in redshirt sophomore guard Cooper Kaifes. He scored five points and tallied two assists in his first three minutes off the bench.
“We needed it, and he was huge,” Moser said about Kaifes’ first-half performance. “I thought Cooper gave us a great spark.”
Valparaiso stretched its lead to nine points with 1:18 left in the first half — its largest of the game. However, Loyola senior guard Lucas Williamson and redshirt senior forward Aher Uguak hit back-to-back three-pointers in the final minute of the period to cut the Ramblers’ deficit to three points at half, trailing 29-26.
Loyola struggled shooting the ball in the first half, going 9-for-25 from the field. Meanwhile, Valparaiso shot 13-for-25.
The game was tight after halftime, with neither team able to create much separation. Loyola sophomore guard Marquise Kennedy hit a layup to give Loyola a three-point lead with 6:17 left to play — the Ramblers’ first time leading by more than a single point the entire game.
Loyola senior center Cameron Krutwig hit a hook shot to put the Ramblers up 54-48 with 1:39 remaining. Loyola wouldn’t score for the rest of the game, but still managed to escape with a two-point victory after Krikke’s final shot didn’t fall.
After the game, Moser said the team “got fortunate” after Krikke’s shot missed. He also praised Krutwig’s performance down the stretch.
“I thought [Krutwig] bailed us out,” Moser said. “That’s what I love about [Krutwig], he took a lot of weight on his shoulders after that game two at Drake, and he did what [an MVC] Player of the Year candidate does. He took us on his shoulders and really bailed us out with some great passing out of the post.”
Krtuwig finished with 13 points, six rebounds and five assists. Senior guard Keith Clemons led the Ramblers in scoring with 16 points, shooting 4-for-7 from three-point territory.
After winning seven MVC games by 20 or more points, this is the second straight game to come down to the wire for the Ramblers. Loyola lost 51-50 in overtime to Drake University Feb. 14.
“I wish it could be blowouts every game, but we know it’s going to be tough,” Clemons said. “A lot of people want to knock off the Ramblers, and we’re aware of that.”
Redshirt senior guard Zion Morgan led Valparaiso with a career-high 15 points off the bench while Kpegeol and Krikke contributed 10 points each.
This was the third game Valpo has played against a ranked opponent this season — the first two coming against then-No. 25 Drake University Feb. 6-7 — it’s led at halftime in all three games.
This was the third game Valpo has played against a ranked opponent this season after facing off against then-No. 25 Drake Feb. 6-7. The Brown and Gold had led at halftime in all three games, but only came out victorious in one of them.
Loyola is scheduled to play its last games of the regular season when it hosts Southern Illinois University at Gentile Arena Feb. 26-27. Tip-off for Feb. 26 is set for 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.