Arch Madness

Get Your Shoes, Drew: Loyola’s Going Dancing

Zack Miller | The PhoenixThe Loyola Ramblers will head to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament after two seasons as MVC Champions.

In a physically intense matchup between two giants of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), the 2022 MVC Championship saw No. 3 seed Drake University and No. 4 seed Loyola go head-to-head in a rematch of the 2021 Championship. For the second consecutive year, the Ramblers fought their way to the top and punched a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. 

Double-doubles by graduate guard Lucas Williamson and graduate forward Aher Uguak — 18 and 16 points, respectively, with 10 rebounds each — propelled Loyola into victory at the Enterprise Center March 6.

Loyola head coach Drew Valentine credited the victory to his team’s hard work and dedication, and said the way the Ramblers played in the tournament was “really fun” for him to see.

“[I’m] so just, proud to be these guys’ coach, so proud to represent this program. This is what we came back to do,” Valentine said. “We put out a video in April… that said we were gonna run it back, and that’s what we did.”

Loyola opened up the scoring on its first possession, as Williamson scored on a layup following two offensive rebounds. Drake had trouble getting in rhythm to start the game, turning the ball over in their first two possessions, but Loyola was unable to capitalize off them.

The Bulldogs then hit their stride by going on a 13-2 run, putting the Ramblers in a nine-point hole. Drake was able to maintain its lead, reaching its largest of the game at 10 as Tucker DeVries hit a three pointer with 8:46 to go in the first half.

Down 18-8, Loyola was able to recover from its deficit as they went on a scorching 19-0 run. Featuring a highlight Uguak dunk and four Drake turnovers, the Ramblers’ run held Drake scoreless for nearly seven minutes to get a nine point lead.

Roman Penn responded with a pull-up jumper to end Loyola’s run and sparked another Drake run, as they scored seven points while holding Loyola to zero in the final 02:43 of the half. However, it wasn’t enough to recover from Loyola’s nine point lead, as both teams headed back to the locker rooms with a score of 27-25.

At the half, Drake was outperforming Loyola in shooting percentage from the field and three point territory 35.7% to 33.3% and 37.5% to 20%, respectively. However, the Ramblers had three more points in free throws and three more offensive rebounds than the Bulldogs, allowing for more offensive opportunities for Loyola.

MVC Freshman of the Year DeVries led the game in scoring with 10 points by the half while Williamson led the Ramblers with eight. 

The first second half points went to Williamson after it took 1:15 to get points on the board, followed by Drake’s first points from DeVries with a three. However, it took 2:14 for him to score.

Three minutes into the second half, the Bulldogs would eventually get within one point of tying the game after two points from Penn. Drake wouldn’t overtake the Ramblers, but remained a steady few points behind them as the teams went back and forth in the middle of the second half.

Loyola stretched its lead to eight points with 8:26 left to play thanks to a free throw from senior forward Ryan Schwieger. They then brought it to nine points four minutes later off one from Williamson.

However, the good luck wouldn’t last for the Ramblers. With just over four minutes to play, Drake took off on a 7-0 run that put the team within two with a score of 55-53.

Two free throws from Uguak gave Loyola a safety net of four points, and was then extended to seven thanks to three more freebies — two more from Uguak and one from junior guard Marquise Kennedy. 

In the final minute, Drake’s Tremell Murphy would drain a three pointer and Penn would sink two free throws to put the Bulldogs back within two with 22 seconds on the clock. 

Schwieger’s two free throws put the Ramblers back up by four as the maroon and gold crowd rose to its feet and grew increasingly louder.

The last foul of the game was on junior guard Braden Norris with six seconds to go. After shooting one freebie and turning the Loyola score to 63, the Rambler crowd jumped into its usual cheer of “63! 63!” He sunk one more before the final buzzer.

Loyola players rushed the court from the bench immediately to celebrate the team’s 64-59 victory.

The game was plagued by fouls as both Drake and Loyola finished with two players in foul trouble each and one fouled out — Garrett Sturtz and Kennedy. 

Williamson and Penn led the game with 18 points apiece. Uguak contributed 16 followed by DeVries with 15, while Schwieger and Norris also put up double digits. 

Uguak said after the game he told DeVries — who played all 40 minutes — that he has a “bright future ahead of him,” and he has a high level of respect for DeVries.

“He was the main focus in our scouting,” Uguak said. “And I think we just tried our best to wear him out.” 

Valentine highlighted the importance of self-confidence in achieving these types of accomplishments, referencing his own life experience.

“Nobody probably expected me to be here at 30,” Valentine said. “I did, sorry. … The reason why you believe in yourself is because of the work you put in. … I think you’ve got to believe in yourself for real, and I hope you guys can tell I really do.”

The Ramblers’ seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament will be announced March 13 on Selection Sunday. The program is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. CT and is set to be broadcast on CBS.

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