Men’s Basketball Wins Share Of A-10 Regular Season Title With 64-54 Win Over La Salle University

The team also used the evening to honor the seven graduating Ramblers playing their final home game.

It was a bittersweet evening in Gentile Arena as head coach Drew Valentine and the Loyola men’s basketball team cut down the nets celebrating their share of the Atlantic 10 Regular Season Championship following a 64-54 victory over La Salle University. The team also used the evening to honor the seven graduating Ramblers playing their final home game.

Loyola moved into a tie for first place with Richmond University after the Spiders fell short against George Mason University 64-44 earlier in the day. Valentine said after the team finished in last place just a year ago, this year has been all about pride, which he feels has been restored in the program.

“At the end of last year, there wasn’t a lot of people that probably believed that this was real,” Valentine said. “But the people in that locker room did, whether they were newcomers, freshmen, transfers or returners, they believed that this was possible and going to happen.” 

The departing members of the squad who were celebrated during a pre-game ceremony along with their loved ones were Greg Dolan, Patrick Mwamba, Will Smythe, Dame Adelekun, Philip Alston, Tom Welch and Braden Norris.

Adelekun led Loyola with a double-double, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds while third-year guard Des Watson capped off his regular season with 11 points and three assists. First-year center Miles Rubin scored 10 points and broke the program record for blocks in a single season with 72, finishing Saturday’s game with six. Norris also scored 10 points and dished out his 500th career assist. 

The Ramblers entered play 22-8 and 14-3 in conference play following a 69-59 win at Davidson College March 6, while the Explorers lined up across from them at 15-15 overall and 6-11 in A-10 competition. 

Rubin started the game off with a touch off the glass inside before La Salle took an early 6-4 lead off of 3-pointers by first-year forward Tunde Vahlverg Fasasi and third-year guard Daeshon Shepard. Adelekun worked in the post to tie it at six going into the first official timeout. 

Second-year Explorer forward Rokas Jocius took over and spurred a 7-0 La Salle run single-handedly with a hook shot over Rubin in the paint, a corner three and an alley-oop slam to make it 13-6. 

Norris and Watson set up Rubin for buckets inside, rejuvenating the Loyola offense and cutting the lead to 13-10. The success was interrupted as Shepherd hit a shot from the corner of the key before second-year La Salle forward Ryan Zan intercepted a pass and was free to break down floor to give his team a 17-10 lead. 

Adelekun got three points back working hard on the offensive glass, and Watson connected on a corner three, cutting the Explorer lead to one. Alston retook the lead inside before Norris hit a deep 3-pointer, putting Loyola up 21-17. 

Fourth-year La Salle guard Anwar Gill made two layups to tie the score before fourth-year guard Sheldon Edwards netted a 3-pointer to keep Loyola a step ahead. Fourth-year Explorer guard Jhamir Brickus went back-and-forth with the Ramblers, hitting two mid-range jumpers before Norris kicked off a 12-0 Rambler run with a tough fade-away in the lane. 

Dolan made a 3-pointer in transition, Adelekun dropped in two at the line, Watson got around his defender and finished at the rim with a reverse layup, and Norris was nothing but net with a deep 3-pointer as Loyola assumed a 37-25 lead. 

The Ramblers took a 37-28 lead into the halftime break and picked up right where they left off in the second half. Watson went two-for-two at the charity stripe and Adelekun got his own rebound and put it back up, maintaining Loyola’s 41-31 advantage. 

In his last game in front of the home fans, Welch brought the crowd to their feet when he found himself open from beyond the arc and took advantage of the look, making it 44-34. Watson got the bounce on a long reverse layup and second-year guard Jayden Dawson rattled in a 3-pointer as the Ramblers kept rolling. 

Adelekun converted on a 3-point play after putting his signature post-up skills on display, and Edwards threw a lob up for Rubin who brought it down with two hands, extending the lead to 55-42. 

Rubin, who is the nation’s best first-year shot-blocker, rejected Shepherd’s driving dunk attempt then sent back an attempted Gill layup. The sold out crowd in Gentile made themselves known when Watson hit a pull-up jumper making it 57-42. 

La Salle fought to extend the game down the stretch with intentional fouls which helped Norris add to his point total. After the final buzzer rang out with the scoreboard reading 64-54 in Loyola’s favor, Valentine grabbed the PA microphone to address the crowd and celebrate his team.

“Those guys over there, those guys are the ones who believed,” he said. “They are a gritty, resilient group that represents this university, this city and this program to the max.”

A ladder was brought onto the court to allow each member of the team, including the coaches and student-managers, to cut off their piece of the net — a long-standing tradition for championship teams in college basketball. 

When asked after the game if Norris had any doubt at the end of last season he and the team would be in this position now he immediately responded, “No.” 

“It’s been an unbelievable five-years for me and to have a game like this on senior night, for a championship, you can’t draw it up any better, to be honest with you,” Norris said. “It’s bittersweet today and then you end it off with a championship, so I can’t be more thankful for the opportunity, and we have more work to do.”

Adelekun said he was very happy for his time at Loyola to end with a championship after it slowly turned into his home. He said the only way he could describe the feeling of winning a championship is “unbelievable.”

“Reflecting, thinking about all the work you put in, all the early mornings, all the two-a-days, all the yelling and just thinking about the fact that it paid off and you can say you’re a champion,” Adelekun said.

The Ramblers have the chance to cut down more nets as they turn their attention to the A-10 Men’s Basketball Championship tournament hosted in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn March 12-17. As the second-seed, Loyola has earned a double-bye and will start their post-season journey Thursday, March 14 in the quarter-final match. First-tip is scheduled for 4 p.m. CST and fans can catch the game broadcast on USA Network or listen on the radio with Rambler Sports Network.

Featured image by Ryan Pittman | The Phoenix

Griffin Krueger

Griffin Krueger

Griffin Krueger is the Editor-in-Chief of The Phoenix. He began working for The Phoenix during his first week at Loyola and previously served as Assistant News Editor and Sports Editor. Krueger is a fourth-year Political Science major with minors in Economics and History. In his free time he enjoys reading and exploring the city on his bike.