No. 20 Loyola Chicago took care of business Friday in its Missouri Valley Conference tournament opener while also cracking open the lid on the basket.
A 73-49 rout of Southern Illinois marked the first time in five games, dating back to an 81-point outburst Feb. 13 at Drake, that Loyola scored more than 65 points in a game.
The Ramblers will try to fill the nets again Saturday when they meet dangerous Indiana State in a semifinal matchup in St. Louis.
Ten players entered the scoring column Friday for Loyola (22-4), with reserve Jacob Hutson leading the balanced attack with 13 points. Braden Norris and Lucas Williamson each tallied 11 as the Ramblers connected on 47.4 percent of their field-goal attempts.
“Guys got good looks and made them,” Norris said. “We’re all shooters, and we’ve put in the time and have the confidence. If we missed one, we kept shooting. We found good looks and they went in.”
Ramblers coach Porter Moser felt his players carried a heavy burden down the stretch of the regular season, knowing how important it was to earn the top seed in the conference tournament to set them up for success in the postseason.
“The three or four games, there was a lot of weight on their shoulders with winning the Valley,” he said. “All the talk about the NCAA Tournament … but today, I thought we came out really loose.”
The top-seeded Ramblers didn’t even need a big game from senior leader Cameron Krutwig, who netted just eight points but still contributed six rebounds and three assists. Most important, he toiled for only 21 minutes, which could leave him with relatively fresh legs for a back-to-back.
Krutwig is the team’s scoring leader at 14.7 points per game, but six of his teammates contribute between seven and eight.
Meanwhile, fourth-seeded Indiana State (15-9) survived a taffy pull with its Valley travel partner, fifth-seeded Evansville, to post a 53-43 win. The Sycamores received a game-high 19 points from Tyreke Key and also got 10 from Tre Williams.
However, Indiana State won the game with its work on the defensive end. The Purple Aces are a dangerous 3-point shooting team, but the Sycamores limited them to 34.7 percent shooting overall and just 4 of 17 from beyond the arc.
“We were playing hard on the defensive end,” Williams said. “When things aren’t falling on the offensive end, you have to pick it up on the defensive end.”
Key leads the team’s offense at 17.5 ppg on 48 percent shooting, while versatile sophomore forward Jake LaRavia chips in 12.3 ppg, 6.3 rebounds and a team-high 57 assists.
Indiana State has been one of the conference’s best teams since starting the season 3-6. The turning point might have occurred on Jan. 10 when Loyola visited Terre Haute for the opener of a two-game series with the Ramblers.
The Sycamores rallied down the stretch, using pressure defense to get the Ramblers off-kilter and produce a 76-71 victory.
However, despite the late surge, it appears that coach Greg Lansing might be asked to leave after his 11th season. Lansing is one win from tying the school record for most in a career with 182, but rumors suggest the administration wants to make a change.
–Field Level Media
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