Loyola’s Defense Neutralizes George Mason to Lift Ramblers to Victory

The Loyola men’s basketball team got its second win in conference play against George Mason University. A strong performance by the Ramblers’ defense and three players posting 13-point outings gave Loyola a dominant win in Gentile Arena Feb. 4.

The Loyola men’s basketball team (8-14, 2-8) took its second win of conference play this season Feb. 4 against George Mason University 69-61. A strong defensive performance by the Ramblers — holding the Patriots to 32% shooting from the floor — and selfless ball carried Loyola to victory.

Loyola opened up scoring with a layup by graduate center Bryce Golden. The Patriots were able to respond with a three-pointer by Ronald Polite III to take the lead, but a bounce-pass by redshirt senior Braden Norris found Golden for another layup to retake the lead.

A three-pointer by Norris and two free throws by graduate forward Jeameril Wilson gave Loyola a dominant 11-3 lead early in the game. Throughout the first seven minutes of the half, the Ramblers held the Patriots to just three points while scoring nine off four George Mason turnovers.

Two layups by the Patriots cut their deficit to four, but a three-pointer by Schwieger would spark the beginning of a 8-2 run for the Ramblers, capped off by a jumper and three-pointer by Golden to set the score at 19-9.

George Mason’s Devon Cooper hit a stepback three as the shot clock expired, but a spin-move layup by junior forward Philip Alston as he was fouled got three points back for the Ramblers after the and-one. The Patriots were then able to cut their deficit to five points off Cooper’s hot hand, scoring one more three-pointer and assisting Malik Henry for a dunk

After senior guard Marquise Kennedy and Wilson scored two points each to extend Loyola’s lead to nine, a slam dunk by George Mason’s Justyn Fernandez got Patriots fans on their feet. However, Norris responded with a three-pointer to quickly sit them back down, as the Ramblers established a commanding 10-point lead.

The Patriots then scored four points off free throws followed by a three-pointer — all unanswered — to put them within three after a 7-0 run. Loyola called a timeout and came back to score a dunk off the hands of Alston, assisted by senior forward Tom Welch to send the game into halftime with a score of 34-29.

The Ramblers capped off the first half with efficient passing, recording 10 assists while committing only two turnovers. On the other side of the court, the Patriots recorded more turnovers than assists — six to five.

Golden put the Ramblers on the board first in the second half as he capitalized off an offensive rebound to score a layup. However, the Patriots were the hotter team coming into the second half, responding with a 9-2 run featuring five Loyola fouls and five points off free throws to tie the game at 38, forcing a Loyola timeout.

Straight out the timeout, Wilson found the net on a layup to snap the Ramblers’ three-minute scoring drought, but the Patriots responded with one of the same to even up the score at 40.

Welch then scored on a layup while fouled and scored the and-one to take a three-point lead at 43-40. However, George Mason would not let the Ramblers extend their lead, tying the game again at 45 after a free throw by Malik Henry.

Loyola then went on a 7-2 run featuring five points by Schwieger on a turnaround fadeaway jumper and a wide-open three assisted by Alston.

Loyola maintained a lead of at least three for the remainder of the game by playing solid defense. For a stretch of seven minutes, the Ramblers did not allow a single field goal until just under four minutes to go in the game, when Cooper scored a layup to set the scoreboard at 58-53. 

The Patriots were able to score just one more field goal after Cooper’s. In the last minute of the game, Loyola’s defense denied every George Mason opportunity while Kennedy scored three free throws to give the Ramblers a 69-61 win.

The Ramblers’ smart decision-making and ball security — reflected in their 16 to six assist to turnover ratio — helped them get the win against the Patriots. Loyola also finished the game shooting 42.6% from the floor while smothering George Mason to an underwhelming 32%.

Loyola Head Coach Drew Valentine said despite the adversity his team has faced this year, the win against George Mason shows the belief they have in themselves, also crediting his coaching staff for the game plan and in-game adjustments. 

“Passion, intensity, competitiveness at all times,” Valentine said. “That’s what the defense looked like tonight, and that’s what, when people talk about Loyola Chicago defense, that’s what it is.”

The Ramblers return to Gentile Arena Feb. 8 to host Saint Joseph’s University Feb. 8 in their second matchup of the season. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. and is set to be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago.

Featured image courtesy of Victor Adegoke

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