The Loyola men’s basketball team (4-0) defeated the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) 80-63 in a tense game at Gentile Arena Nov. 20.
This was the 58th time Loyola and UIC have met since the 1985-1986 season, with the Flames maintaining the lead in the series 31-27. However, Loyola has gone undefeated against UIC since 2013.
Gentile Arena was tense for all 40 minutes of gameplay, as the lead changed five times and the scoreboard showed a tie six times throughout the night.
“It was a gutty one,” Loyola head coach Drew Valentine said. “[UIC] came out and put us in a couple tough positions that we haven’t been in, I mean we’ve been starting games out pretty hot. It was fun for me to see the guys fight through, battle, claw in the first half.”
The Ramblers struggled offensively in the first half, taking almost ten minutes of gameplay to reach double digits in scoring. With less than nine minutes left in the period, Loyola was averaging .57 points per possession, less than half its average at the end of the game.
A made layup and free throw from graduate guard Lucas Williamson off a goaltending call from the referees brought Loyola closer to UIC at 23-19 with less than six minutes left in the half.
Loyola continued to rally in the final minutes of the first half as senior forward Ryan Schwieger brought in six consecutive points to put the Ramblers up 28-25.
Just as it was looking like Loyola would enter the locker room tied at the half for the first time this season, Williamson made a layup with eleven seconds left in gameplay to bring the Ramblers to 33-31 over UIC.
Loyola headed into halftime with the closest margin its seen so far, which Valentine said added to the emotion in the locker room between periods.
“The guys were fired up,” Valentine said. “Anytime we play anybody from the city, they take it personally. They took it just a little too personal — I love their energy and emotion but you’ve got to learn how to control [that] and use it in the proper way.”
The second half was a completely different story for the Ramblers, as they were able to grab their first double-digit lead over the Flames.
The two teams continued to go back and forth early in the second half, but offensive performances from senior forward Ryan Schwieger and a dunk from graduate forward Aher Uguak with less than two minutes in the second sealed the deal for the Ramblers, bringing the score to 76-62 favoring Loyola.
Schwieger once again led Loyola in scoring, contributing 22 out of the 30 points off the bench. The Princeton University transfer also brought in 22 points against Chicago State University Nov. 16 and now averages 14.8 points per contest.
Williamson and Norris also scored in double-digits for the Ramblers, with 16 and 12 points respectively. Meanwhile, graduate guard Tate Hall and Uguak both brought in eight rebounds.
Williamson, an established leader on the team, spoke to the advice he gives to newcomers on the team when the scoreboard isn’t looking as promising as it has in other games so far this season.
“They hit a couple tough shots, but just don’t blink,” Williamson said. “Continue to play the defense, continue to trust the process and offense — that’s just college basketball at a high level.”
Loyola is set to travel to the Bahamas for the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. They’re slated to face off against Michigan State University as their first matchup Nov. 24. Tip-off is scheduled for 11 a.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.