The all-time matchup was tied 30-30 coming into Gentile Arena, where Loyola hadn’t lost since 2009.
Cross-City Rival UIC Hands Loyola Men’s Basketball 72-67 Loss
Loyola men’s basketball fell short against cross-city rival the University of Illinois Chicago 72-67 as the Flames snapped a 10-game Ramblers winning streak in the series dating back to 2013.
The top performers for the Ramblers were third-year guard Des Watson who finished with 13 points and fourth-year guard Braden Norris who finished with 12 points, five assists and two steals.
Loyola entered play just days after they defeated Eastern Illinois University 89-65 to improve to 1-1 on the season. The Flames, who made the 13-mile trek from the near-west side to Rogers Park, came into the game 1-1 after picking up their first win of the season against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Nov. 10.
UIC and Loyola have met on the basketball floor 60 times and have met consecutively since 1994. The all-time matchup was tied 30-30 coming into Gentile Arena, where Loyola hadn’t lost since 2009. When they met at UIC last November, Loyola emerged victorious, winning 70-63.
The Flames unleashed a three-point barrage in the opening minutes and jumped to a quick 9-2 lead on the backs of fourth-year guard Toby Okani who scored two baskets and third-year forward Filip Skobalj who scored the games first points with a deep fade-away from beyond the arc.
Graduate guard Greg Dolan got the Ramblers going as he picked up three quick assists on two dishes to first-year center Miles Rubin inside which set up a raucous slam dunk and a reverse lay-in. He also located Watson in the corner for a three-pointer.
Fourth-year forward Philip Alston cut into the 13-9 deficit with two makes at the charity stripe. Fourth-year UIC guard Isaiah Rivera kept the Flames in the driver’s seat when he converted on an and-one to make it 16-11.
Alston brought the Ramblers within two with a layup, but UIC would answer right back on the next possession when second-year guard Steven Clay drilled another Flames three-pointer.
With just over 10 minutes left in the half, Alston came up big again and knocked in a three in the corner, making the score 19-17. Skobalj responded with a three of his own, maintaining the Flames lead.
Alston went down after fighting for a loose ball and had to leave the game and wouldn’t return. After the game, head coach Drew Valentine said he doesn’t expect Alston to miss a significant amount of time.
A scoring drought took hold of both teams until Dolan broke through with a corner three of his own to make it 22-20. Following a timeout Rivera tickled the twine on a turn-around fade-away jumper to keep the Flames ahead 24-20.
Norris then hit a corner three which cut the deficit to just one. Watson gave Loyola their first lead of the game, hitting a mid-range jumper.
Norris found Rubin for another slam and fourth-year forward Tom Welch went two for two at the line, giving Loyola some breathing room at 31-27.
Norris hit a corner three and then found Dolan in transition for another, sending UIC into timeout down 37-29. Okani scored four quick points in the last minute-and-a-half, then Rivera hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer, cutting the Rambler lead to 37-36.
Out of the break, Rivera picked up right where he left off and gave UIC the lead with a three. He stole the ball on the next possession and took it the length of the floor to give UIC a quick 41-37 lead.
He then stole it away again and hammered it home with a slam-dunk putting the Flames ahead 45-39. Rivera was UIC’s top performer, finishing with 23 points, four assists and two steals.
Watson got Loyola going after he went up strong, banking it in through a foul for an and-one opportunity, bringing the Ramblers within one at 47-46.
The two teams traded buckets until second-year Flame forward Jaden Brownell buried a three to give UIC a 53-48 advantage. Watson would hit a driving lay-up then Welch drained two free throws tightening the game at 53-52. Dolan got the first Rambler lead since the start of the half when he pulled up for a mid-range jumper.
Norris earned a trip to the line and hit both to extend the Rambler lead 56-53. Loyola entered the bonus early and their free throw shooting was strong, making 23 of their 25 attempts.
Graduate UIC guard Marquise Kennedy helped UIC strike back making it 58-57 after cutting to the rim. Kennedy transferred to UIC over the off-season after spending four-years as a member of the Ramblers.
During his time with Loyola, Kennedy averaged eight points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists and was a key-member of two runs to the NCAA Tournament. When he first checked in, Kennedy was met with both cheers and boos by the Ramblers faithful.
With just under five minutes left, Kennedy gave the lead back to the Flames, hitting two at the stripe. Okani extended the lead with a driving layup while Loyola struggled to make a basket, shooting just one for 10 from the field in the last five minutes.
With just 57 seconds left, Kennedy drew another foul, making both his shots to put UIC up 66-61. On the next possession Welch received a pass open in the post but bobbled the ball, squandering a key opportunity for Loyola.
Second-year guard Jalen Quinn came up with a huge steal, intercepting the inbound pass and drew a foul. He hit both his shots at the line, making it a one possession game.
On the next inbound, Dolan and Norris teamed up to trap Kennedy in the corner, forcing UIC to quickly call timeout. Quinn got his hands on another inbound pass but collided with graduate forward Patrick Mwamba causing him to lose the ball out of bounds.
UIC then got a clean pass off to Kennedy, who was quickly fouled. He would sink both. On the other end, Norris drew a foul and hit both of his shots, cutting the deficit to 68-65.
The Flames got it to Kennedy who again was sent to the line with just 19 seconds left. He silenced Gentile Arena, making both shots to put Loyola down five. Quinn quickly made it a one possession game with an arcing shot in the lane.
Welch and Dolan trapped Rivera on the inbound and forced the ball away, but not before Welch was whistled for a foul. Rivera would put Loyola away with two more points at the line. Norris put up a three in the final seconds which was off-line and the UIC players stormed onto the floor celebrating their victory.
After the game, Norris said there is a lot of the season left, but it’s still disappointing as the team wants to win every game.
“We have a competitive group and we’re not trying to take it easy after this loss, and we want to get better and win every game,” he said. “But, you know, you win in February and March, and the National Championship in April. So lots to learn from obviously, but we come right back on Saturday, and we just gotta keep doing better.”
Valentine credited UIC and said they played with an edge and had a few guys step-up for big performances.
“Regardless of how good you’re playing, I don’t think we played great tonight, but how good you play, how competitive you are, how intense you are, there’s a couple of nights a year where the other team is just destined to win,” he said. “That’s what I felt like it was tonight.”
The Ramblers will host University of New Orleans Privateers Saturday, Nov. 18. First-tip is scheduled for 3 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago+.
Featured image by Holden Green | The Phoenix