First-year center Jacob Hutson was the surprise hero for the No. 20 Loyola men’s basketball team (22-4, 16-2) as the Ramblers rolled past Southern Illinois University 73-49 in their first game in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) conference tournament March 5.
Hutson finished with 13 points in nearly 15 minutes of action — both career-highs against a Division I opponent. The big man from Edina, Minnesota entered the game with just 17 points in 43 total minutes against Division I opponents this year.
Loyola advanced to the semifinals and will play No. 4-seeded Indiana State University after the Sycamores defeated No. 5-seeded University of Evansville 53-43 in the quarterfinals March 5.
Two other Ramblers scored in double figures. Redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris added 11 points and nine assists. Senior guard Lucas Williamson rounded out the trio with 11 points on 3-for-6 shooting from three-point territory and four rebounds.
The Ramblers opened the game on a 10-0 run, as Southern Illinois wasn’t able to hit a shot for over five minutes to start the game.
“We always talk about wanting to set the tone early,” Williamson said. “We always want to hang our hat on the defense. It just sets the tone for the rest of the game.”
Southern Illinois head coach Bryan Mullins said he thought his team got quality looks early the game but just failed to convert.
“I thought that first eight minutes of the game we had some looks, some threes, some post-ups that didn’t drop,” Mullins said. “[Loyola was] able to gain some confidence offensively and defensively.”
The Salukis got within seven points of the Ramblers with 8:52 remaining in the first half, trailing 21-14. However, the Ramblers rattled off a 12-2 run as their lead ballooned to 17 points with under four minutes to go in the period. Loyola entered halftime with a 35-22 lead.
Senior forward Anthony D’Avanzo helped keep the Salukis within reach in the first half, scoring 12 points. However, D’Avanzo scored just four second-half points as the Ramblers pulled away.
The Ramblers started the second half on an 18-2 surge to give Loyola a 29-point lead and effectively put the game away. Loyola’s lead didn’t dip below 20 points for the remainder of the game.
Utilizing his team’s depth, Loyola head coach Porter Moser played 14 players in the blowout victory. The Ramblers collectively filled up the scoring column, with 10 different players recording points.
The Ramblers dished out 19 assists as a team, while Southern Illinois only managed six. Loyola also shot significantly better than the Salukis, connecting on 47.6 percent of its three-point attempts compared to the Salukis’ 22.2 percent.
“We’re all shooters and we put in the time and the hard work,” Norris said about the team’s perimeter shooting. “We gotta have confidence and know they’re going to go in. I think we did that today. When one didn’t go in, we just kept shooting it and kept getting great looks.”
Loyola’s Marquise Kennedy went down with an apparent ankle injury late in the first half, but the sophomore guard returned early in the second half. Kennedy finished with just two points but added five rebounds and four steals in 16 minutes off the bench.
The Ramblers out-rebounded Southern Illinois 37-26 — including nine offensive boards for Loyola. Southern Illinois was limited to just two offensive rebounds as a team. Meanwhile, Loyola snagged three offensive rebounds in a single possession in the second half.
The Salukis nearly knocked off the Ramblers in the final game of the regular season, falling to Loyola 65-58 in overtime. Southern Illinois sophomore guard Lance Jones finished with 30 points in the regular season finale, but Jones went out with an injury in the Salukis’ first round matchup against No. 8-seeded Bradley University March 4 and didn’t return the rest of the tournament.
“I felt like those last three or four games, there was a lot of weight on our shoulders trying to win the conference championship, trying to stay up with all the talk about the NCAA Tournament,” Moser said. “I think the guys just felt really loose just watching them in practice and after winning the league.”
Loyola’s leading scorer Cameron Krutwig finished with eight points after averaging 15 points per game during the regular season. With those eight points, the senior center moved up to No. 5 on Loyola’s all-time scoring list, passing Jerry Harkness — who played for the Ramblers from 1960-63.
Tip-off between Loyola and Indiana State is set for March 6 at 12 p.m. and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.