Men’s Basketball Falls to Bradley 74-62 in First Round of NIT Despite Second Half Surge

Loyola was led by Braden Norris, Dame Adelekun and Philip Alston, who were all playing in their final collegiate game.

The Loyola men’s basketball team came up short against Bradley University in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, ending their season 74-62 March 20 despite a near comeback in the second half.

Loyola was led by graduate guard Braden Norris, graduate forward Dame Adelekun and fourth-year forward Philip Alston, who were all playing in their final collegiate game. Norris finished with 17 points and two steals while Adelekun turned in a strong performance recording 10 points and seven rebounds. Alston finished with seven points and four rebounds.

The 23-9 Ramblers made the familiar trip to Peoria, Illinois after suffering an early exit from the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship, falling to St. Bonaventure 75-74 in the quarterfinal round. The 22-11 Braves welcomed Loyola to the Carver Arena after falling to Drake University 72-67 in the semifinal round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. 

Fourth-year Bradley forward Darius Hannah set the tone early with five quick points on a putback dunk and an and-one after he drew a blocking foul putting up a floater in the lane. The Braves’ fast start continued as third-year guard Christian Davis hit a 3-pointer and graduate forward Malevy Leons got to the rim off a spin move to force Loyola into an early timeout, down 10-0. 

Third-year guard Des Watson got the Rambler offense going after they started the game 0-6 from the field with a reverse lay-in to make it 10-2. Hannah made a layup and Leons made two at the charity stripe. Alston got fouled after getting an over-the-top pass inside and converted on the point after to complete the three-point play as Loyola continued to trail 14-5. 

Hannah hit a jumper before Leons got his hand in the passing lane and took it all the way to the rack. The Ramblers cut into the deficit with a second-chance putback by graduate forward Tom Welch and a Watson driving layup while the Braves maintained a 24-10 lead. 

Third-year Bradley guard Connor Hickman connected on a 3-pointer and first-year center Miles Rubin hit a shot in the paint before fourth-year Braves guard Duke Deen got a one-handed jumper to bank in at the shot clock buzzer, putting Bradley ahead 29-13. 

Rubin went one-for-two at the line before Deen hit a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper to extend the Braves’ lead. Second-year guard Jalen Quinn connected from beyond the arc just before the end of the first half, making it 36-19 going into the break. 

Norris started the second half with an open 3-pointer before Hannah responded with a two-hand jam on the other end and then drew a goaltending call on a driving layup to keep his team ahead 40-22. 

Alston spurred some excitement for Loyola after Watson threw an inbound lob that Alston hammered home. Alston was rung up with a technical foul on the play which allowed Deen to make two free throws and gave Bradley possession in a major momentum swing. 

Hickman hit a floater through a Rubin foul and converted on the point after to make it 45-24. Norris came right back and connected on a 3-pointer on the other end to keep the Ramblers steady. On the next possession, Norris got a driving layup to fall to cut the deficit to 45-29. 

Adelekun came up big on the offensive glass, getting a second chance put-back to fall before he drew a foul going up underneath the rim on the next possession. He went two-for-two at the line to make it 45-33. 

The Braves responded with two free throws from Leons and a Deen mid-range jumper before Alston made a driving layup and Norris connected on a deep 3-pointer to cap off a 12-4 Loyola run at 49-38. 

Rubin dropped in a second-chance layup and graduate forward Patrick Mwamaba made a shot from the block before Adelekun drove across the lane, finishing with a touch off the glass to bring the lead down to single digits at 52-44. 

Hickman hit a step-back jumper to put the Braves up by 10 before Quinn hit a 3-pointer and graduate forward Patrick Mwamba scored underneath, cutting Bradley’s lead to five. Adelekun cut into the lead further with a free throw before Watson broke out the Euro step to finish at the rim, making it 54-52.

Deen interrupted Loyola’s 28-9 run with a 3-pointer on the wing, leading the Ramblers to call timeout down 57-52 with five and half minutes to play. Out of the timeout, Leons made two at the stripe and Hickman made a second-chance layup as Bradley reasserted themselves with a 7-0 run. 

Graduate guard Greg Dolan made it 61-54 with two free throws before Leons made two of his own. Norris stayed hot from beyond the arc with another 3-pointer before Deen got an easy lane to rim off a backdoor cut, making it 65-57. 

On the next possession, Norris drew a foul on a floater and made the extra free throw to cut the Braves lead down to five. With a minute and a half to play, Hannah drove underneath where he got a reverse layup to fall. On the following Loyola possession, a Dolan 3-pointer was off the mark and Bradley called timeout with just over a minute left. 

Out of the break, the Braves beat the Rambler full-court press and Hannah stuck the dagger in Loyola’s season with an alley oop finish off a lob thrown by Deen to make it 67-65. Mwamba attempted a three in the corner which bounced off before Davis made a driving layup to put Bradley ahead 71-60. 

Loyola intentionally fouled to extend the game but they couldn’t get back into it as the Braves closed out the 74-62 victory and punched their ticket to the second round of the NIT. 

With the loss, the Ramblers concluded their season with a final record of 23-10. Head coach Drew Valentine said it was tough to go out in that fashion, but he was proud of how they battled back into the game in the second half.

“Bradley did an incredible job of making us play the way we did tonight, so give them credit,” Valentine said. “I am proud of my group. I appreciate them making this year extremely fun and having an incredible amount of belief. They all believed, and that’s why we were able to accomplish what we did this year.”

Featured image by Chandler Hart | Loyola Athletics

Griffin Krueger

Griffin Krueger