A win against Southern Illinois University and a loss for Drake University has earned the No. 21 Loyola men’s basketball team (21-4, 15-2) the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Regular Season Championship.
The Ramblers took on Southern Illinois Feb. 27 in a game that went down to the wire — a tip in from senior center Cameron Krutwig sealed the 65-58 win against the Salukis. But it wasn’t until Drake fell to Bradley University 66-61 on the same day that Loyola knew it was the outright winner of the MVC regular season.
Despite leading for the majority of the game, Loyola was held to 18 points in the second half. The Ramblers faltered offensively, only shooting 27.3 percent over the final 20 minutes.
On the tail end of a 10-0 run, Southern Illinois sophomore guard Lance Jones hit a three-pointer with 5:18 left in the game to take the lead — the Salukis’ first of the game. The Ramblers were in a scoring drought and had committed five turnovers in a five-minute span.
Loyola sophomore guard Marquise Kennedy got control back with four minutes left, but redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris fouled Jones on a three-pointer with just 21.2 seconds to go. Jones hit two of the three free throws to make it 56-56 and the Ramblers were unable to score with the remaining time, sending the game into overtime.
Even though the Ramblers were shut down for the second half, they regained control and dominated Southern Illinois in overtime to win the game and at least a share of the MVC regular season title. Bradley University defeated Drake University 66-61 shortly after Loyola’s game, giving the Ramblers sole ownership of the regular season title — and the No. 1 seed at Arch Madness.
“We were watching at the end because we already won this game,” Krutwig said. “In the locker room after, it was a cool moment to realize that Drake was going to drop it. There was more celebration when we beat Southern than when Drake lost.”
What appeared to be a close game at the start quickly turned in favor of the Ramblers with 63 percent shooting in the first half. Southern Illinois managed to stay within striking distance for a majority of the half. But the Ramblers went on a 12-0 run over a roughly six-minute span near the end of the half to put some distance between them and the Salukis.
With 5:39 left in the first half, the Ramblers already had two players scoring in double figures. Krutwig led the Ramblers with 15 points, while senior guard Lucas Williamson added 10 of his own.
The Salukis didn’t end the scoring drought until Southern Illinois senior forward Anthony D’Avanso scored a layup with 2:57 left in the half.
Jones led the Salukis with 10 first-half points on 4-for-5 shooting. However, Loyola only had four turnovers whereas Southern Illinois had 13. That led to Loyola attempting eight more shots than the Salukis in the first half.
Although the Salukis had a solid offensive effort, Loyola’s defense kept them from getting looks. The Ramblers forced 13 turnovers and translated them into 12 points. Of six steals in the first half, Williamson grabbed four of those. Pair the defensive success with 63.0 percent shooting and Loyola headed into the break up 38-25.
The second half was much different for both teams, with Southern Illinois able to pass the Ramblers’ once-sturdy defense. The Salukis shot 11-for-22 in the second half and outscored Loyola 31-18 as Jones notched a career-high 30 points.
“It was frustrating,” Williamson said. “We kept getting wide open looks but couldn’t connect on them. Defensively that’s where we hang our hats on. We know offense will come, but defensively it has to be there.”
Loyola continued to fight even after the Salukis took the lead at 5:14, and with a boost from Kennedy to tie the score, they were able to stay in the game. Despite holding the Ramblers scoreless for about 8 minutes the Salukis couldn’t do enough to pull ahead and the teams headed into overtime.
Loyola dominated Southern Illinois in the five-minute overtime. The Ramblers not only outscored the Salukis but also forced two turnovers and three personal fouls. Loyola outscored the Salukis 9-2 and secured the 65-58 overtime win.
Loyola head coach Porter Moser turned to the crowd of about 10 people — made up of friends and family members of the senior players and managers — and thanked them following the win.
“Normally I’m talking to the crowd but I’m going to talk to the parents to say thank you,” Moser said immediately following the win. “Thank you to everyone at Loyola for allowing us to have a season here. Now, let’s go cut down some nets.”
Since the Ramblers are the No. 1 seed in the MVC tournament they get a bye in the first round. The Ramblers are scheduled to play March 5 against either Bradley or Southern Illinois depending on who wins the game March 4. Tip-off is set for 11 a.m.