For the first time since the 2017-18 season, the No. 1-seeded Loyola men’s basketball team (23-4, 16-2) advances to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament championship March 7.
It might as well have been senior night for Loyola. Four of the six seniors on the roster scored in double digits to defeat No. 4-seeded Indiana State University 65-46 March 6. Senior center Cameron Krutwig led the team with a double-double consisting of 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Senior guards Lucas Williamson and Keith Clemons added 14 and 12 points, respectively. Redshirt senior forward Aher Uguak contributed 10 points.
After over a third of the Ramblers’ points came from their bench in the quarterfinals win over Southern Illinois University March 5, Loyola’s bench unit managed just two points against the Sycamores. Indiana State received 13 points from its bench.
The Sycamores were one of only two MVC teams to beat the Ramblers during the regular season. Indiana State defeated Loyola 76-71 Jan. 10 on the back of senior guard Tyreke Key’s 31 points. However, Key was held to 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting in the semifinals against the Ramblers and had been battling a shoulder injury in recent weeks.
“We’ve been playing [Key] for years now … we know he’s one of the top scorers in the league,” Uguak said. “Being physical and keying in on him, that’s just been a goal of ours.”
Kicked off by Loyola redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris’ first three-point shot, Loyola got off to a quick offensive start. Over a 2:37 period early in the game, the Ramblers went on a 9-0 run. Loyola connected on its first five three-point attempts and didn’t miss an attempt from downtown until nine minutes into the game.
“We knew they were going to come out and be aggressive,” Krutwig said. “I feel like these last two games … the five starters really take it upon ourselves to set the tone in the games. In the games that we don’t, we really find ourselves behind the 8-ball.”
In the first half, the Ramblers shot 53.6 percent overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc. Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing said Loyola “steamrolled” his squad in the first half. Loyola scored 18 of its 42 first-half points from three-point range. Clemons led Loyola with 11 points heading into halftime.
“[Loyola] just makes the right plays all the time,” Lansing said. “The things [Loyola does] just makes it difficult to guard. You can prepare and try to do your best to take something away, but then they have a counter to that.”
Indiana State couldn’t seem to gain any offensive traction against the Ramblers. The Sycamores shot 44.0 percent overall and 33.3 percent beyond the arc. Despite holding Loyola scoreless in the last 2:21 of the first half, Indiana State barely chipped away at the lead and the Ramblers went into the locker room up 42-28.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Key said. “We did miss a lot of easy ones that could have built momentum. But they just made it hard on us, especially finishing over the top of them. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the nation.”
Krutwig was much more aggressive on offense in the second half. After putting up six points on 2-for-5 shooting in the first half, he came out and scored 12 points on 6-9 shooting after the break.
The second half was a closer affair, but Indiana State wasn’t able to make up any ground on the Ramblers. Loyola outscored the Sycamores 23-21 in the final 20 minutes on the way to a 16-point victory.
Loyola’s largest lead of the game came early in the second half when Williamson knocked down a three-pointer to put the Ramblers ahead 51-30 with 15:56 left in the game. It was a wire-to-wire victory for Loyola, with the Sycamores never holding a lead in the game.
Despite capitalizing on the Ramblers’ 11 turnovers — turning them into 14 points — Indiana State just couldn’t dig itself out of its hole. Sophomore forward Jake Laravia led the team with 13 points, including nine in the first half. After the game, Loyola head coach Porter Moser sang Laravia’s praises.
“That young man is a hard-playing, physical player,” Moser said. “He is a high-level player and a premier player in this league.”
The Ramblers advance to the MVC Tournament championship March 7. Loyola will play either No. 2-seeded Drake University or No. 3-seeded Missouri State University. Tip-off is set for 1:10 p.m and will be broadcasted on CBS Sports Network.