Watson scored a career-high 24 points, shooting eight of eleven from the field and six of eight from beyond the arc.
Watson’s Career-High 24 Lead Ramblers to First Win of Season
The Loyola men’s basketball team picked up their first win of the season Saturday night defeating Eastern Illinois University 89-65 in front of the home fans at Gentile Arena.
The Ramblers were led by third-year guard Des Watson who torched the stat sheet. Watson scored a career-high 24 points, shooting eight of eleven from the field and six of eight from beyond the arc.
Loyola walked onto the court 0-1 after dropping their season opener to No. 10 Florida Atlantic University 75-62 Nov. 8. The Panthers made the trip to Rogers Park after they doubled up on Monmouth College Nov. 8, winning 91-45 to improve to 1-1 on the season.
Graduate EIU forward Jermaine Hamlin scored first after grabbing an offensive rebound on the game’s second possession. Fourth-year forward Philip Alston and first-year center Miles Rubin would both score in the low-post on the next two possessions to give Loyola an early 4-2 lead they wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the game.
Fourth-year Panther guard Tiger Booker sank a pull-up jumper to try and keep pace with the Ramblers, down just 6-4. The Loyola offense exploded in the first five minutes, scoring 17 before the first official timeout on the backs of two Watson threes.
Rubin shined on the defensive end, swatting away two EIU shots in the first five minutes. He would go on to record four blocks while the Ramblers as a whole finished with nine. Out of the timeout, graduate forward Dame Adelekun spun around a defender in the post for a lay-in. On the next possession, Watson drained another three, extending the Rambler lead to 22-10.
Booker then picked graduate forward Patrick Mwamba’s pocket and broke down the floor for what appeared to be an easy transition layup. Mwamba kept chase and denied Booker with a huge block off of the backboard.
On the next Rambler possession, Booker would force another turnover and was able to finish at the rim in transition. Finishing with four steals, Booker continued to be a presence on defense throughout the game.
Watson and graduate guard Greg Dolan stabilized Loyola over the next couple possessions, both knocking in threes to give Loyola a 28-14 lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the half.
After the teams traded a series of missed threes, fourth-year guard Braden Norris and fourth-year forward Tom Welch teamed up to electrify Gentile when Norris threw an alley-oop pass to Welch who slammed it down over a Panther defender. Just over a minute later, the pair tried it again but this time Welch was fouled before he could finish. He went one for two at the line bringing the Rambler lead to 33-14.
EIU’s offense found some life after a three minute scoring drought when redshirt second-year forward Kooper Jacobi was good on a baseline mid-range jumper. Booker got a steal on the other end and took it coast to coast, drawing a shooting foul before he could lay it in. He sank both free throws to cut Loyola’s lead to 33-18.
Alston picked up four quick points as the teams traded baskets and entered an official timeout at 39-21. With just over two minutes left in the half, Alston hit a corner three as he and the Ramblers built on their lead before halftime.
Fourth-year guard Sheldon Edwards put up a heavily-contested three-pointer with 30 seconds left in the half which found the bottom of the net. The halftime buzzer sounded with the Ramblers ahead 48-25.
Out of the break, Norris threw another alley-oop, this time to Rubin, who was fouled before he could finish. After making one of the two free throws, Rubin then deflected Booker’s pass on the defensive end which set up Watson for a three in transition. A few possessions later, Rubin made a hook shot in the paint, serving up a 54-27 Loyola lead.
Adelekun dropped in two more baskets inside before Watson hit another three with the 14-minute mark approaching. Mwamba punctuated the Ramblers lead and forced EIU into a timeout with a forceful fast break slam to make it 63-36.
Mwamba picked up nine points over the next three minutes on a made three pointer and six free throws. With just eight minutes to play, Norris dished it inside to Watson for a dunk. Soon after, Watson made another three in heavy traffic to put the Ramblers up 81-44.
Head coach Drew Valentine went to his bench in the last six minutes of the game as the Ramblers closed out their first win of the season. Valentine said he was proud of the team’s unselfish performance and thought they showed a lot of improvement between games.
“I thought our guys showed a lot of maturity by the way that they approached tonight,” he said. “And how they came out with the mentality of how we went about winning this game. So really pleased with a lot of what I saw and really just looking forward to seeing how good this group can be.”
Second-year guard Jayden Dawson didn’t dress for the game as Valentine said he sustained a knee injury against FAU. Valentine said Dawson is expected to miss a couple of weeks as he recovers.
“I got an update from our trainer today, he’s doing better and he’s kind of ahead of schedule already,” Valentine said. “Obviously, we’d love to have him back for Kansas City, so we’re kind of shooting for that.”
Watson said he feels the team is coming together well, and he believes in his teammates just as much as they believe in him.
“Personally, I think we’re really good,” he said. “I think the FAU game was a great challenge and a great place to, you know, see where we’re at. Just as a team, as a unit, as one. But I think we have a lot of room to grow.”
The Ramblers will welcome cross-city rivals University of Illinois Chicago to Gentile Arena Tuesday, Nov. 14. First-tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago.
Featured image by Holden Green | The Phoenix