Early Exit: Loyola Falls to Creighton in NIT Opener

After failing to make the NCAA Tournament, No. 7 seed Loyola (20-14) saw its season come to an end with a 70-61 loss to No. 2 seed Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament Tuesday night.

Redshirt sophomore forward Aher Uguak led Loyola with 18 points on 9-for-11 shooting — one point shy of his career high. The only other Loyola player who scored in double figures was sophomore center Cameron Krutwig, who put up 17 points, four rebounds and five assists.

Once Creighton’s lead was finally out of reach, Loyola head coach Porter Moser took out Marques Townes and Clayton Custer for the last time in their Loyola careers with 15 seconds left in the game. Both redshirt senior guards shared an emotional embrace with Moser and then one-by-one, hugged every player and coach on Loyola’s bench.

Following the loss, a teary-eyed Moser put into perspective the career accomplishments of Townes and Custer and what the pair meant to Loyola.

Abby Schnable | The Phoenix Loyola redshirt senior guard Clayton Custer drives to the basket against Creighton in the NIT March 19.

“Unbelievable students, unbelievable men,” Moser said. “Back-to-back conference championships, they’re winners in every facet of life. I know it’s just killing them right now that it’s over. They’re going to hold their head high. What they did as people and impact [on] our university is unprecedented.”

Townes — the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Player of the Year — only managed to score two points while dishing out eight assists. The redshirt senior guard scored a combined 11 points on 4-of-25 shooting in his finals two games at Loyola — both losses.

As a group, the Ramblers shot 47 percent from the field, including going 5-for-14 from three-point distance. The Bluejays shot 49 percent, but went 9-for-25 from downtown to seal the victory. Loyola found success on offense through passing by dishing out 20 assists, which was considerably more than the Ramblers’ season average of 13.8 per game.

Custer scored nine points and had four assists in his final game in a Loyola jersey. However, the former MVC Player of the Year struggled in the second half, scoring three points on 1-of-5 shooting.

“I don’t know if it’s really hit me that I’m never going to put this jersey on [again],” Custer said following the loss. “I’ve loved playing here so much and for the coaches to believe in me the way they have, I owe them so much. I’m just so thankful that I was able to play here.”

Moser said losing Townes and Custer will be tough, both on the court and in the locker room. However, Moser brought up Krutwig — who was sitting next to Moser in the press conference — as a future leader on the team.

“We have two seniors that meant so much to me, personally and as their coach, and the university,” Moser said. “It’s just tough when you have situations in the locker room like that. These guys have meant so much to us. It’s kind of apropos that we have our other leader right here who’s going to have the baton handed from two unbelievable leaders.”

The Ramblers are slated to return eight scholarship players next year, including Krutwig, Uguak and sophomore guard Lucas Williamson. Opening night for the 2019-20 season is scheduled for Nov. 5, according to the NCAA.

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