It was a tale of two halves for Bradley University, but the Loyola men’s basketball team (11-3, 7-1) bested the 2020 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament champions 69-56 Jan. 24. After going into the second half up by 24 points, the Braves chipped away to make it a closer game in the end.
Ahead due to a 20-0 run to start the game, Loyola was able to best Bradley’s comeback performance in the second half. The Braves rattled off a 14-2 run midway through the second half to cut Loyola’s lead to 11 points. Despite outscoring the Ramblers 37-26 in the second half, the Ramblers’ lead proved to be enough for a Loyola win.
All eyes were on the matchup between Loyola’s senior center Cameron Krutwig and Bradley’s senior forward Elijah Childs. Both players led their teams in points with Krutwig adding 19 and Childs with 18. Loyola head coach Porter Moser said although the two stars were paired up often, it was a team effort to defend Childs.
“It’s more than just a 1:1 matchup,” Moser said. “They both made some really good plays. I don’t think one got the better of the other. This matchup is about a lot of guys.”
After suffering a blowout loss from Illinois State University Jan. 20, the Braves came into the matchup 9-5 overall and 3-2 in MVC play. They were voted to finish third in the conference’s preseason poll.
Meanwhile, Loyola advances to its best conference start since the 1984-85 season. The Ramblers were voted to finish second and currently sit in second place in the MVC.
Redshirt senior guard Keith Clemons’ back-to-back three-point shots kicked off an exciting first half for Loyola. Utilizing a 20-0 run, the Ramblers quickly built up a lead that would end up as the Braves’ downfall. Bradley didn’t score for nearly half of the first half — once at 1:36 and not again until 10:37.
Loyola held the Braves shooting efforts to 34.6 percent. The Ramblers capitalized on the Braves’ turnovers, scoring 10 points through Bradley’s 11 turnovers, which included seven steals by Loyola.
Punctuated by a dunk courtesy of redshirt senior forward Aher Uguak, the Ramblers headed to the locker room up 24 points.
Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said he was more surprised at his team’s lackluster performance than Loyola’s good one. He called the Ramblers an “NCAA Tournament Team.”
“We can’t let our frustrations on the offensive end come back on the defensive,” Wardle said. “We gave up way too many points in the paint. … I could go down a list of things in the first half.”
The second half was a different story. Bradley’s shooting percentage jumped to 56.0 percent and Loyola made three “sloppy” turnovers to start the half. The Braves ended up outscoring Loyola 37-26.
Despite Loyola having its largest lead of 27 points at 18:07, Bradley eventually upped the energy and began taking the Ramblers down. Four different players contributed to a 7-0 run that chipped the Ramblers’ lead down to 14 points. Eventually, the Braves trimmed it to where only 11 points separated the two teams
Bradley sophomore guard Sean East — who added 12 points and five rebounds to the Braves’ scoreboard — said once they connected on the defense, the offense followed.
“We needed to slow down,” East said. “Run out offense. Get a few things going that we practiced earlier this week. Our defense really helped us out. Once we [saw] us get a few stops, it boosted our confidence and we were flowing more.”
Krutwig went down on the ground with just 10 minutes left in the game and was replaced by sophomore forward Tom Welch — Krutwig reentered the game a couple minutes later. Fueled by the injury to their teammate, the Ramblers rallied and responded with their own 6-0 run.
Although the Braves would continue to fight toward a victory, they were never able to get close enough. The Ramblers pulled out the first win of the two-game series.
While Krutwig led the team with 19 points, two other Ramblers scored in double digits. Redshirt senior guard Tate Hall contributed 11 points and redshirt senior forward Uguak added 13 points and six rebounds.
Redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris said that not only did Uguak have an “impressive” stat line — he shot 5-for-7 and added a three-pointer — but he also had a lot of intangible plays.
“He’s a junkyard dog like we say all the time in the locker room,” Norris said. “He does all the dirty work for us. He’s a beast on the boards and on the defensive end. When he has games where he puts it in offensively it’s just a huge push for us.”
Moser said that even though his team shot well and had three players in double digits, he “wasn’t impressed” with the team’s shooting.
Loyola shot 56 percent from the field, but only 21.4 percent from beyond the arc. Fifty of the Ramblers’ points came from inside the paint.
“I don’t think we shot well at all,” Moser said. “I think we can shoot better. We made our first two threes from that point on and we were cold. We’re going to have different guys every night. That’s the testament that we have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different games.”
Loyola is scheduled to play the second game of the Bradley series Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.