The Loyola men’s basketball team (4-1) fell to Michigan State University (MSU) 63-61 during the first round of the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas Nov. 24.
This was the 13th time the Ramblers and Spartans have met, with MSU holding the lead in the series 11-2. Loyola entered the matchup undefeated so far this season, while Michigan State was 3-1.
“You don’t get participation trophies for losing a game like that,” Loyola head coach Drew Valentine said. “We’ve got to find a way to stay positive, stay together, and grind and improve… I’m proud of how they stepped up and made that thing a one possession game.”
Loyola struggled offensively early in the first half, going more than six minutes without making it onto the board. MSU’s defense proved to be a challenge for Loyola, with three consecutive blocks from Marcus Bingham Jr. preventing the Ramblers from scoring early on.
A layup from senior forward Ryan Schwieger put Loyola on the board, setting off Loyola’s offense effort for the period. The Ramblers were able to fight back, heading into halftime leading 28-23.
The first half also saw graduate guard Keith Clemons score his first points for the Ramblers this season, sinking two three-pointers. Clemons sat out the first two games of the season with a knee injury.
Both teams struggled to hold onto the ball during the first half, with the Spartans and the Ramblers tallying 14 and 11 turnovers respectively. MSU particularly struggled, recording nine turnovers over 10 possessions.
Fouls were the theme of the second half, with graduate guard Lucas Williamson, graduate forward Aher Uguak and Clemons each recording three personal fouls with more than ten minutes left in the second. MSU also saw plenty of personal fouls, with Gabe Brown fouling out early in the period.
Loyola started the second half by extending its lead to nine points over MSU within the first minute of gameplay. The Spartans responded quickly, taking the lead back seven minutes in.
The two teams fought back and forth, tying the game four times throughout the matchup. The game was tied 61-61 with 16 seconds left on the scoreboard, but an alley-oop dunk from Bingham Jr. saw the Spartans come out victorious.
Although Michigan State ended up on top, the matchup demonstrated Loyola’s versatility as a team. In the first half, 12 out of Loyola’s 28 points came from the bench, while MSU’s bench only contributed two.
Williamson was the only Loyola player to score in double digits, bringing in 16 points for the Ramblers. Meanwhile, MSU’s Malik Hall led the game with 24 points.
Michigan State was Loyola’s first competitor coming from a Power 6 conference this season, which Valentine said increases the visibility to the team.
“I think that speaks volumes,” Valentine said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘Congrats, you guys look like a really good team, you guys are going to be a force to reckon with.’ Where we’re at as a program, we’re past that now — we’re a championship level program.”
Loyola’s coaching staff entered the game with a long-standing history with Michigan State. Valentine, who grew up in Lansing, Michigan, was a graduate assistant for MSU head coach Tom Izzo for two seasons — during which Valentine saw the Spartans reach the Final Four in 2015.
Valentine’s father Carlton Valentine and brother Denzel Valentine also played basketball at Michigan State. Meanwhile, Loyola assistant coach Sean Dwyer was a student manager for the MSU men’s basketball team during his undergraduate studies.
Izzo recognized this history between the two teams at the postgame press conference and the success of Valentine and Dwyer at Loyola, saying “maybe I’m a better teacher than I am a coach right now.”
Loyola will move on to play the loser of the Nov. 24 matchup between No. 19 Auburn University and No. 22 University of Connecticut. The Ramblers will face either the Tigers or the Huskies Nov. 25. Tip-off time and broadcast details have yet to be announced.