The Loyola men’s basketball team (11-2, 2-0) took down Bradley University 78-71 in a gritty overtime game at Gentile Arena to move to 2-0 in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play Jan. 8.
This was the first MVC matchup for Loyola since it defeated Indiana State University 88-76 Dec. 1. The Ramblers had their last two MVC matchups against Southern Illinois University Jan. 2 and Illinois State University Jan. 4 postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.
Despite the fact that this was the first overtime the Ramblers have seen in so far this season, they didn’t waver, which Loyola head coach Drew Valentine said was positive for the team.
“It’s a sign of a good team when you can win games in a variety of different ways,” Valentine said. “When you have a never quit attitude, where you believe and trust in the style of play [and] your teammates, you can set yourself up for success.”
The first half was off to a slow start, with the scoreboard favoring Loyola 5-4 with sixteen minutes left in gameplay. The Ramblers were only 28.6% in shooting, while the Braves were making only 25% of their attempts.
Loyola picked up some momentum thanks to back-to-back dunks from graduate forward Aher Uguak off assists from graduate guard Lucas Williamson, but Uguak exited the court with 10:08 left in the period after an injury during a Bradley basket.
Bradley started to close in on Loyola, going on a 6-0 scoring run to tie the game 22-22 with 5:48 left on the board. From that point on, Bradley took control to head into the locker room leading Loyola 33-29 at the half.
The start of the second half appeared to be a continuation of the end of the first, with Bradley going on a 17-5 scoring run to take its biggest lead of the game 50-34 with 13:49 left on the clock.
Despite the 16 point deficit, Loyola continued to fight hard deep into the second half. Williamson contributed a three-point jumper nine minutes into the period that brought life back to Gentile Arena and reduced Bradley’s lead down to single digits 52-43.
The Ramblers continued to rally against the Braves and managed to take the lead back 66-64 with exactly one minute left on the clock. However, Bradley pushed back to tie the game 66-66 and bring the two teams into overtime.
“I thought we did a better job of taking care of the ball,” Valentine said of the team’s improvement in the second half. “[Bradley] had twelve second-chance points in the second half and overtime, but other than that I think our defense was pretty solid all the way around.”
Loyola scored first in overtime with a pair of free throws from senior forward Ryan Schwieger. Free throws were the theme of the third period, with 12 of the 17 points made in overtime coming from the line.
Williamson, who didn’t score a single point in the first half, led the Ramblers with 20 points. Nine of those points were made off free throws, which came at a crucial point in overtime to lead to the Ramblers’ victory.
Senior forward Chris Knight achieved the team’s first double-double of the season, bringing in 14 points and 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, Uguak pitched in 16 points and five rebounds.
“I can’t say enough about how much of a spark [Knight] was for us off the bench tonight,” Valentine said. “He’s a player with so much ability… he’s a guy that can impact the game with his athleticism and his quickness, I thought he did a great job of getting that into the game.”
Loyola’s versatility continued to be a highlight, with 33 of its 78 points at the half coming from off the bench — thanks to Knight and senior forward Ryan Schwieger, who added 13 points. Meanwhile, the Braves had just 13 points coming from the bench, all in the second half.
Due to COVID-19 concerns and the surge of positive cases in basketball programs across the country, it’s not always a guarantee the Ramblers’ will meet every team on their schedule. However, Williamson said this doesn’t impact how they play their games.
“We take [it] game by game,” Williamson said. “For me, I’m not going to believe we’re playing a game until tip-off, but other than that, it doesn’t add more weight to each game.”
Loyola is slated to continue its homestand against Valparaiso University Jan. 11. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT and the game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.