UPDATE: The Missouri Valley Conference announced a schedule update to the MVC women’s basketball tournament due to COVID-19. Missouri State University withdrew from the tournament after it was announced Bradley University and Drake University each had a positive test within their Tier I personnel.
In the release, the MVC said “subsequent contact tracing revealed that both institutions have enough available and non-impacted players and bench personnel to safely compete.”
No. 6-seeded Loyola was previously set to play No. 2-seeded Drake in the semifinals March 13 at 4 p.m., but the Ramblers are now scheduled to play No. 5-seeded Bradley in the semifinals March 13 at 6 p.m. As the highest remaining seed, Drake automatically advances to the championship game due to there being an odd number of teams remaining after Missouri State dropped out.
The winner between Loyola and Bradley will play the Bulldogs March 14 at 4 p.m. in the championship game with an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament on the line.
The Loyola women’s basketball team’s bench stormed the court as the final buzzer rang, signifying the Ramblers had knocked off No. 3 seed Illinois State University 61-60 in the quarterfinal of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament in Moline, Illinois March 12. Junior forward Allison Day scored a career-high 23 points — including seven in the final period — to secure the victory for the Ramblers.
This is the first time Loyola has made it to the Hoops in the Heartland semifinals since joining the conference prior to the 2013-14 season. The winner of the MVC Tournament snags an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Ramblers have a quick turnaround when they face No. 2 seed Drake University March 13 at 4 p.m., but Loyola head coach Kate Achter said she plans on living in the moment and enjoying the biggest win in her five years with the Ramblers.
“I’m going to enjoy this one,” Achter said. “Drake is Drake, and Drake is really good and [the Bulldogs] pose a number of challenges for us. But tonight, I’m just going to enjoy this with our players. And we’re going to rest our bodies because we deserve it. … Hearing them celebrate in the locker room is why I do this.”
Loyola certainly earned a night of rest after the back-and-forth battle with the Redbirds. The game featured 11 lead changes, including the Ramblers overcoming a five-point Illinois State lead with under five minutes left to play in the game.
With the Redbirds up 58-53 with 4:30 remaining, Day sparked the Ramblers with a pair of back-to-back jump shots — one of which was a three-pointer — to tie the game. After each team made another shot, the two squads were deadlocked at 60 heading into the final minute of action.
“Going into this game, we’ve got nothing to lose,” Day said. “We’ve been working on our shots this whole week. Gradually, I’ve gotten more confident outside of the paint, so I think I was just kind of going off of my paint touches inside, feeling confident and just letting it fly.”
Both teams struggled to execute offensively in the closing minute, but Loyola first-year guard Maya Chandler made what Achter called “one heck of a play.” With time winding down, Chandler drew a foul and headed to the free throw line with just over a second remaining in the game.
Chandler sank the first free throw but missed the second.
“We’ve had a lot of experience in those [late-game] situations, at some point we felt like it was going to pay off,” Achter said. “Last week, we used the analogy of a gold miner that sold his property when he was three feet away from gold. We didn’t want to quit with the effort that we had because we’d been so close.”
After calling a timeout, Illinois State inbounded the ball near half-court with a chance to win the game but failed to get a shot off in time.
“We were just trying to get a shot and clear an angle for me to get a good shot off,” Illinois State senior guard Juliunn Redmond said. “I feel like it actually worked, the ball just didn’t go our way.”
Illinois State head coach Kristen Gillespie said she doesn’t blame the loss on the foul that led to Chandler’s free throw attempts.
“That game was not lost on a foul, let’s not kid ourselves,” Gillespie said. “There’s a lot of tiny things that led up to it.”
Redmond was a split-second too late with the final shot attempt, but she tied a career-high with 23 points on 9-for-10 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and four assists.
As a team, Loyola knocked down 40 percent of its three-point attempts, significantly higher than its 30.1 percent during the regular season. The Ramblers also grabbed three more offensive rebounds than Illinois State and scored five more second chance points than the Redbirds.
“Honestly, they just started hitting shots from the kick-outs and the second chance rebounds,” Redmond said about how Loyola came back near the end of the game. “On our end, we weren’t boxing out and getting the rebounds. And we were giving them second chances to knock down open shots.”
Redmond had 21 points heading into the final 10 minutes but only scored two in the final period. She joined Day as a member of the First Team All-MVC. Chandler, who made the eventual game-winning free throw, was named the MVC Freshman of the Year.
Loyola sophomore guard Sam Galanopoulos also scored in double figures for the Ramblers, finishing with 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Illinois State senior guard Paige Saylor was the Redbirds’ only other double-digit scorer, contributing 10 points.
The Ramblers entered Hoops in the Heartland riding a five-game losing streak, including a pair of losses to Illinois State March 5-6. The Redbirds managed to come back and defeat Loyola by three points March 5, and followed that up with a 15-point victory March 6 in Loyola’s senior day at Gentile Arena.
Despite the losses to end the year, Loyola managed to snag the No. 6 seed. Meanwhile, Illinois State won its last five regular-season games on the way to locking up the No. 3 seed.
The NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings also heavily favored the Redbirds. Illinois State ranked No. 57 out of 343 Division I teams, while the Ramblers were No. 147.
Heading into the semifinals with two games between Loyola and an NCAA Tournament berth, the Ramblers meet another opponent that defeated them twice in the regular season. The Bulldogs blew out Loyola by 29 Feb. 5 at Gentile but won by just 4 points Feb. 6 against the Ramblers.
While the Redbirds boasted the best defense in the MVC this season, the Bulldogs present a very different challenge. Drake has the highest-scoring offense in the conference by a wide margin, averaging 76.8 points per game. Meanwhile, Loyola has averaged 58.6 points per contest this season.
Tip-off between the Ramblers and Bulldogs March 13 is set for 4 p.m. in Moline, Illinois. The game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN+.