The Ramblers faced a challenge coming up against FAU, who won the most games in Division I last season.
Men’s Basketball Falls to No. 10 FAU 75-62 on Opening Night
The Loyola men’s basketball team dropped their season opener to No. 10 Florida Atlantic University 75-62 at the Barstool Sports Invitational at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena.
The Ramblers faced a challenge coming up against FAU, who won the most games of any team in Division I last season with 35 and made it all the way to the first final four in program history.
Fourth-year guard Philip Alston led Loyola in scoring as he got 15 points, six rebounds and shot 33% from the field. Graduate guard Braden Norris scored eight and picked up three assists in the loss.
Even though the matchup was a neutral site game, as the game was just a few Red Line stops south of the Water Tower Campus, the Ramblers had the support of nearly the entire arena. Students filled an entire section and the Ramblers brought along the Band of Wolves. After the game, Alston thanked the Rambler fans for their support.
“I feel like we have the best fan base I’ve seen, definitely in the conference,” he said. “Tonight was amazing. Seeing how big the student section was, it definitely felt like a home game. Thank you to all the fans and I feel like we have the best fans in the country.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the early going. In the first six minutes of play, FAU went just two of seven from the field while Loyola made just one of four attempts.
Third-year Owl guard Johnell Davis got the scoring started when he hit a mid-range jumper after a minute and half of play, giving FAU an early lead they would never surrender.
Third-year guard Des Watson drove to the rim and laid it in, delivering the Ramblers their first points of the game, making it 7-2. Following an FAU free throw, second-year guard Jayden Dawson made a layup and dropped in a three on back-to-back possessions to bring Ramblers within one at 8-7 going into the first media timeout.
FAU’s third-year center Vladislov Goldin and fourth-year guard Brandon Weatherspoon teamed up over the next three minutes to give the Owls an 18-11 lead. At 7 ‘1” Goldin’s domineering presence in the paint posed a challenge for the Ramblers. He finished the game with a double-double, recording 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Loyola responded with a run of their own as Norris hit a mid-range jumper before finding graduate forward Patrick Mwamba for a corner three a few possessions later. Then, with just under seven minutes to play in the half, Alston drew a foul while driving to the hoop and sank both free throws to shrink the Owl lead to just one at 21-20.
Weatherspoon would temper the Rambler momentum when he hit two threes in quick succession to make it 27-22. FAU then scored six unanswered points in 40 seconds, forcing Loyola to call timeout down 33-22 with four minutes remaining.
Goldin drew two fouls in the paint and hit three of his four free throws, while FAU took advantage of Loyola turnovers. They beat Loyola double teams finding fourth-year guards Jalen Gaffney and Bryan Greenlee for an open three-pointer and an easy layup to make it 41-24 with just over a minute left.
After working in the post, graduate forward Dame Adulkun found graduate guard Greg Dolan open in the corner for a three — Loyola’s first field goal in nearly five minutes. Watson hit one more free throw before the buzzer as the Ramblers went to the break down 43-30.
The teams traded buckets in the first few minutes of the second half until Watson made a layup just before the first official timeout, kicking off an eight-point Loyola run. Out of the timeout, Alston drew a shooting foul and went one for two. He then hit a three on the next possession to shrink the Owl lead to just 50-38.
A strong defensive effort by Norris set Watson up for a three that was quickly followed by a Mwamba three-pointer which forced FAU to call a timeout, now up just 50-43 around the 14 minute mark. FAU revived their composure with six unanswered out of the timeout off of two Loyola shooting fouls and reverse layup by third-year forward Giancarlo Rosado.
The Owls put their foot on the gas after the second official timeout. Rosado converted an and-one opportunity while Adulkun fought to keep the Ramblers in it with two buckets in the post, bringing the score to 56-47 with just under 10 minutes to play.
Goldin drilled a hook shot in the paint and a Loyola turnover redshirt second-year guard Nick Boyd to extend the Owl lead to 60-48 on a fast break layup. The big men took over the game for a few minutes as Adulken drew an and-one but missed the free throw while Goldin scored on back-to-back possessions, stretching the FAU lead to 67-52.
Three Rambler turnovers in two minutes allowed Greenlee to pad the lead with a mid-range jumper and a fast break layup. Alston went one for two at the line after drawing a foul, and then hit a driving layup to give the Ramblers some life going into the under four official timeout down 71-55.
FAU would add four more at the line in the final three minutes, while Dolan broke out the euro step to drop in a layup with just over a minute left. Fourth-year guard Sheldon Edwards drilled a three with 27 seconds remaining, but it was too little too late as FAU secured a 75-62 victory.
After the game, Alston said he was encouraged by the team’s performance as they stayed in the game for the full 40 minutes. He said last year the team probably would’ve folded earlier.
“Obviously it sucks to lose,” Alston said. “But big picture, that is a top 10 team as our first game of the year — that is a gauge. That is where we want to be at the end of the year. I think that gives us a little confidence.”
Head coach Drew Valentine said, at points, the team showed why he has been so confident during the offseason. However, he said he wants to see improvement in their guard play and the team needs to improve on its half-court offense.
“We knew coming into the game that discipline was going to be what would win us the game, or lose us the game,” Valentine said. “I think especially in the first half, we didn’t have enough discipline with our defensive game plan.”
The Ramblers will have a chance to pick up their first win Saturday, Nov. 11, when they welcome Eastern Illinois University to Gentile Arena. First-tip is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago+.
This story was written by Griffin Krueger and Andi Revesz
Featured image courtesy of Chandler Hart | Loyola Athletics