In their first matchup since the conference tournament semifinals last season, the Loyola men’s basketball team (15-8, 7-3) rolled past Bradley University 62-51 at Gentile Arena Saturday night. Junior center Cameron Krutwig led the Ramblers to victory with 19 points and seven rebounds.
It was a rematch waiting to happen after Bradley stunned Loyola 53-51 in the semifinal matchup March 9. The loss ended Loyola’s hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament — a place the Braves filled themselves.
“You start building rivalries against teams,” said Loyola head coach Porter Moser. “You have to respect them. It’s a respectful rivalry brewing because they’re very good. You recognize that. There’s definitely a respect that they’re one of the top leagues in this team.”
It was the first time this season Gentile sold out compared to last year’s six sellouts. Nearly five thousand people came to the game and Moser has referred to the student section as Loyola’s “sixth man.”
Throughout the second half, Moser was raising his arms and encouraged the fans to be even louder than they already were.
“I can’t thank the students enough,” Moser said. “Best student energy that I’ve had since I’ve been a head coach at Loyola. You made such a difference. You energized us defensively.”
The first half started off with Loyola and Bradley going toe-to-toe. It wasn’t until three minutes in when Krutwig stole the ball and was able to convert it to a lay-up that Loyola took the lead for the remainder of the game.
It stayed close throughout the remainder of the half. The largest lead came after junior guard Lucas Williamson hit his first and only three pointer of the night, giving the Ramblers an eight-point lead over the Braves.
Bradley managed to chop down the lead with help from walk-on first-year guard Sean Houpt nailing eight points in the first half — he previously only had five for the entire season. Both teams headed into the locker room with a one point difference.
The second half was a different story. Loyola held Bradley scoreless for the first 4:10 of the second half. While the Braves had a couple scoring runs themselves, they were never able to get close enough to pull ahead.
Loyola redshirt junior guard Tate Hall said a lot of the second half turnaround had to do with the Ramblers focus on Bradley guards Darrell Brown and Nate Kennell. The two are the second and third-leading scorers on the team averaging 14.0 and 12.6 points per game, respectively.
“They’re obviously two really good players,” Hall said. “Obviously we were keying on them. Kennell is a really good shooter and obviously Darrell Brown is really good. We stepped up to the challenge and just wanted to stop them.”
Another area the Ramblers capitalized on was scoring off turnovers and second-chance points. The Braves turned the ball over 17 times and Loyola scored 24 points off those. In addition, they notched 16 points just off second-chance points.
Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said a big part of his team’s game plan was to focus on Krutwig. He mentioned it not working as well as he hoped, highlighted by Krutwig’s almost 20 points.
It’s something Krutwig said he’s used to, and it often allows for points in other areas.
“They were sending a lot of double teams,” Krutwig said. “That’s just a good way for us to get offense. If they’re going to send two guys at me, they’re going to have to leave somebody open.”
The last 20 seconds of the game, everyone in Gentile knew the game was over. Neither team rushed to make a play. Loyola fans were on their feet with deafening cheers and Bradley fans left their seats. The Ramblers pulled away to a 62-51 lead and ended the game.
Wardle described it as a tale of two halves for Bradley and was disappointed because he thought it could have been much closer.
“I thought we competed and did some good things in the first half,” Wardle said. “I thought we played pretty tough and pretty physical. In the second half I did not. I think it sets the tone in the first possession with [Loyola] grabbing two offensive rebounds in the first possession. They out competed us in the second half.”
Bradley came into the game 6-3 in Missouri Valley conference play and 15-7 overall. The Braves were one of three teams tied for second alongside Loyola and Southern Illinois University.
Loyola is next scheduled to play Indiana State University Feb. 5 in Terre Haute, Indiana. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.