Gentile Arena roared as Loyola (2-0) defeated Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) with some big-time highlights Nov. 13. In a game with two total lead changes, the Ramblers dominated in their second regular season match.
With five players scoring in the double-digits — led by graduate forward Aher Uguak’s 18 — the Ramblers were able to extend their home-court winning streak to 24 games.
In the first ever meeting between Loyola and FGCU, both teams entered the match with a 1-0 record following dominant performances — Loyola winning by 58 points and FGCU by 37.
The Eagles won the tip-off, drawing a shooting foul in their first offensive effort of the game. Kevin Samuel stepped onto the free-throw line and missed both shots, as “you let the whole team down” echoed in Gentile Arena.
In the Ramblers’ second offensive effort, Uguak put Loyola on the board first following an offensive rebound and a successful layup, drawing a foul and scoring the and one — Loyola led 3-0. FGCU was quick to respond with a three-pointer by Tavion Dunn-Martin — the last tie of the game.
In the third minute of the game, 2020-21 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Defensive Player of the Year graduate guard Lucas Williamson showcased his defensive ability. His steal off Samuel would set up a three-pointer by junior guard Marquise Kennedy, assisted by redshirt junior guard Braden Norris.
In the sixth minute of the game, Loyola graduate forward Tate Hall drew a foul on a successful layup, subsequently scoring the and one. This sparked the beginning of a scorching 12-3 run by the Ramblers, resulting in a 16-point Loyola lead.
For the rest of the first half, the Eagles were unable to narrow their deficit down. With 43 seconds on the clock, a block by Kennedy started a fast break, stopped by an FGCU foul. Williamson took the foul and was able to drain both free throws, giving Loyola a 20 point lead — their largest of the half.
With four seconds left in the first half, Dunn-Martin was able to knock down a jumper to shorten Loyola’s lead by two heading into halftime as the scoreboard read 51-33.
The No. 1 scoring defense in the 2020-21 season showed off in the first half playing physical defense. FGCU was contained to a mere four points in the paint while Loyola scored 28. Loyola’s defense also forced 10 turnovers off the Eagles, setting up 16 of Loyola’s 51 points in the half.
However, FGCU seemed like a different team coming out of the locker room. Led by Dunn-Martin’s back-to-back threes to open the half, the Loyola defense seemed unresponsive as FGCU went on a 14-5 run.
The Ramblers were able to adjust and responded quickly. In the 10th minute of the game, Kennedy was able to get past a defender at the top of the key, allowing him to slash straight to the rim, finishing with a ruthless dunk to put the Ramblers up 15.
FGCU was not discouraged by the dunk, as they responded with a 14-4 run sparked by two consecutive three-pointers, one of them by Dunn-Martin — his eighth of the game for 28 individual points. The score read 72-67, with the Eagles just five points away from the tie.
In the last five minutes of the game, the Ramblers woke up and didn’t let them get closer. Their offense caught fire, scoring in six of their next eight possessions, finishing their run with a second slam dunk by Uguak, assisted by a deep Williamson pass from below their own rim. The Ramblers scored 17 points in the final five minutes to put them past the Eagles 89-77.
Following their win against FGCU, Loyola’s offense has looked sharp and selfless to start the season. As a team that knows how to share the ball, the Ramblers have recorded 54 assists on 71 made field goals, limiting their turnovers to 11.5 per game. Head coach Drew Valentine credited the team’s offensive success to the work ethic of his players and coaches.
“I think our staff has really spent a lot of time with those guys but those guys gotta want it, and then they gotta believe in themselves, and it’s my job to make them feel like they can believe in themselves,” Valentine said. “If you put the work in, you can come here and you can come rock out.”
Uguak — the game’s highest scorer with 18 points — said the team is focused on proving the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) preseason rankings wrong, one game at a time.
“We definitely feel disrespected by the MVC, as we’re ranked second in the [MVC preseason poll],” Uguak said. “[We’ve] fought one game at a time… Today we were focused on FGCU and now we put that one in the bank, and now we’re focused on Chicago State on Tuesday.”
Up next, the Ramblers will host Chicago State University (2-0) in Gentile Arena Nov. 16. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and is set to be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago.