The 2020-21 No. 1 scoring defense was out on display when the Loyola men’s basketball team (1-0) defeated Coppin State University in the Ramblers’ home opener. Holding the Eagles back to win by a margin of 58 points, Loyola hit the ground running in what became an exhilarating matchup for the Ramblers, taking the final victory 103-45.
The last time the Ramblers played Coppin State — the start of the 2019-20 season — Loyola fell to the Eagles with a score of 76-72. In the 2021-22 opener, six Ramblers passed the double-digit scoring mark in the victory, with graduate forward Aher Uguak leading the game with 16 points.
A new university record was set in the opener — the highest number of three-point shots scored in a game with 20. The matchup also marks the most points a Loyola team has scored since a double-overtime 104-96 victory over Indiana State University Jan. 30, 2016.
Loyola head coach Drew Valentine said that although the team fouled more than he would have liked in the second half — racking up 13 — he was happy with the team’s performance in other areas tonight.
“[I’m] just really, really pleased with how we shared the ball,” Valentine said. “Really, really pleased with how guys stepped up and showed how much work that they put in in the off-season, and also obviously pleased with our defense.”
Graduate guard Keith Clemons didn’t dress for the game — similarly to the Nov. 3 exhibition game — and Valentine said he had suffered a sprained knee. He said there’s a chance Clemons could play in the Ramblers’ next game, but he’ll “for sure” be back Nov. 16.
Loyola started off hot in the first game of its regular season. Graduate guard Lucas Williamson almost immediately scored six points off two three-point shots, and five other Ramblers quickly found themselves on the board before the first timeout. Loyola held a 22-3 lead within the first six minutes of the game.
In the fifth minute of the game, the Ramblers took off on a 16-0 scoring streak over the course of the next four minutes. By the 10 minute mark, Loyola held a 30-3 lead.
Coppin State managed to put a couple stray points on the board over the course of the following minutes, but never enough to start gaining on the Ramblers. Twelve minutes in, Loyola broke the forty-point mark. About four minutes later, the Ramblers took off on another scoring run, this time 14-2, putting them past the 50-point mark.
With less than three minutes to go, Coppin State took off on an 8-0 run, putting the score up to 52-19. Senior forward Ryan Schwieger managed to make one last layup for the Ramblers before halftime, putting the score at 54-19.
Loyola shot 51.3% from the field in the first half and 44.0% from three-point territory. Redshirt junior guard Braden Norris also led the game as the only player in double-digit points with 10. Seven different Ramblers also got points on the board in the first half.
The Eagles only managed to shoot 15.6% from the field and 7% from three-point territory during the first half.
Although Coppin State was able to start tallying some more points at the start of the second half — scoring seven in the first three minutes — it wasn’t enough to gain a significant push toward Loyola. With a three-point shot from Norris less than three minutes into the second half, the Ramblers hit the 60-point mark.
This didn’t deter the Eagles from putting 16 points on the board in the first ten minutes of the second half, comparable to Loyola’s 15. The Ramblers also found themselves in a scoring drought in the middle of the second half with no field goals for over four minutes. However, Loyola quickly remedied this issue when the team scored eight points in less than a minute, complete with six points from Schwieger and two from Williamson.
This would be just the start of a powerful scoring run for the Ramblers, as they would go on to complete a 24-2 run in just under five minutes and bring the point gap to 50 points.
With just under two minutes left in the game, first-year forward Saint Thomas made a layup to push Loyola past the 100-point mark — a feat not accomplished since Nov. 24, 2017 when the Ramblers scored 102 points.
In the end, Loyola was able to hold Coppin State to just 22.4% from the field and a mere 8% from three-point territory.
Valentine said the team’s tough preparation in practice helped players stay aggressive and attentive, which therefore helped Loyola’s defense in the game.
He said he believes this is what helped the Ramblers take off on so many runs.
“I tell these guys all the time: I want to play elite, elite defense, and then I want to play fast,” he said.
Norris said he credited the team’s defense in its success tonight along with the team’s willingness to work together on the court. The Ramblers ended the night with 31 assists and nine different players scoring points.
“31 assists, that’s pretty impressive,” Norris said. “That’s sharing the ball, guys playing [selflessly] … it all started defensively.”
The game also drew the largest student crowd on record for Loyola, with 1,357 students in attendance at the Tuesday night game, according to the men’s basketball Twitter account.
Valentine credited the energy the crowd brought in his team’s performance.
“It’s easy to play hard when you’re supported at that … level,” Valentine said. “Just really, really excited about this year and the support that we have.”
The Ramblers will face their next opponent when they host Florida Gulf Coast University at Gentile Arena Nov. 13. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. and the game is set to be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago+.