The Loyola men’s basketball team (7-2, 1-0) faced off against “Red Line Rival” DePaul University Dec. 4 at Wintrust Arena for the first time since 2012. After an intense matchup for all 40 minutes of playing time, the Ramblers secured a 68-64 victory. The last time Loyola has lost to a Chicago area opponent was 2013.
The game started off hot with the first points of the game coming from Loyola junior guard Marquise Kennedy to make it 3-0 for the Ramblers. Graduate guard Lucas Williamson quickly followed up with a layup, and Loyola soon held a 13-0 lead less than four minutes in.
DePaul managed to put its first points on the board at 3:52 in, and although the home team managed to sink a few buckets, they couldn’t keep pace with the Ramblers for the first part of the half. Just over nine minutes in, Loyola held a 23-8 lead and was shooting 77% from the field while DePaul was only shooting 22%.
The game was characterized early on by lots of physical action and effort from both teams, with players fighting hard for the ball. This led to an exciting pace that kept up throughout the first half, with the flames fanned by a vocal crowd of both DePaul and Loyola fans.
With just over ten minutes left in the half, DePaul took off on a 7-0 scoring run over the next minute that put them within eight points of Loyola’s lead. However, they made it back in the game with a layup from sophomore center Jacob Hutson at 10:38 in.
In the middle of the half, the Ramblers suffered five turnovers in the span of just under five minutes. Loyola also proceeded to go on a scoring drought that helped DePaul creep back up the board, putting the score at 26-25 with just three minutes to go in the first half.
The last few minutes proved to be an intense battle for the lead before halftime after the Blue Demons took their first lead of the game with free-throws from Javon Freeman-Liberty.
The Ramblers couldn’t power back up to take a lead before halftime, and DePaul held the advantage 37-31 heading into the break after a 7-0 run in the final 1:03. Loyola suffered 11 turnovers in the first half alone.
Loyola head coach Drew Valentine said he talked to his team about confidence in themselves, especially after the Nov. 24-26 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, after DePaul’s run to end the half.
“It was all about toughness, it was all about taking care of the ball, it was all about believing in yourself,” Valentine said. “We went to Atlantis [and] we played three tough, really high-level games down there. We went back to that, we drew back to that, we used that as confidence moving forward.”
During the first half, the Ramblers also shot 56.5% from the field while DePaul shot 42.9%.
The first points of the second half came quickly with a three-pointer from Williamson, followed up by two points from DePaul’s Nick Ongenda. Although the Blue Demons kept the lead for the first part of the half, two free-throws from graduate forward Aher Uguak just over four minutes in put the Ramblers within four points.
Thanks to a layup from senior forward Chris Knight and a jumper from Uguak, Loyola tied the score at 42-42. Senior forward Ryan Schwieger saved the day for the Ramblers, giving them a 45-42 lead with just under 13 minutes to go.
However, the score would tie again at 45, where it held for almost a minute until tying again at 47. The game stayed neck and neck within four points, but Loyola held the lead ever since Knight broke the tie with just over 10 minutes left.
With 7:32 left to play, three players were in foul trouble — Loyola’s Kennedy and DePaul’s Freeman-Liberty and Ongenda.
The Ramblers eventually took a momentary six-point lead with a jumper from Schwieger with 6:22 left. However, it quickly jumped back down to four with a score of 57-53 thanks to a layup from DePaul’s Yor Anei, and the score held until two free throws from Uguak with just under four minutes to play.
Loyola kept a steady lead heading into the final two minutes, and although the Blue Demons tried to come up and take the advantage, they couldn’t break the Ramblers’ lead. With thirty seconds to go, the arena was momentarily filled with chants of “L-U-C” from Loyola fans.
With two more free throws from Uguak, the Ramblers solidified their lead and took the game 68-64.
The physicality of the game was evident in Freeman-Liberty fouling out with 3:58 to go and Kennedy and Ongenda finishing with four fouls each. DePaul head coach Tony Stubblefield said he felt he and his team were prepared for the physicality of the Ramblers’ team, and he credited Loyola for playing a strong game.
According to Knight, one of the keys to the changes between the first and second halves for the Ramblers was in transitional periods.
“I think in the first half, they got a lot of transition baskets, we had a lot of live turnovers,” Knight said. “I think in the second half we got a lot better at handling the ball, and then we made sure to rebound down a little bit better. We made it our type of game — half-court game — which is what Loyola basketball is.”
There’s also a history between individual players, as well — Williamson and Freeman-Liberty both went to high school together at Whitney Young.
“I knew going in [to tonight] that he was the third leading scorer in the nation,” Williamson said. “He’s grown so much since … junior year when I first met him. It was just a lot of fun.”
The Ramblers will face their next opponent when they host Roosevelt University at Gentile Arena Dec. 7. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game is set to be broadcast on either ESPN+ or ESPN3.