In St. Louis homecoming, Christian Thomas charges Loyola statement win

ST. LOUIS — Loyola forward Christian Thomas grew up going to Arch Madness. The St. Louis native and Clayton High graduate had plans to attend Saint Louis University as a walk-on under the late coach Rick Majerus.

The city is his home, and it is part of who he is.

But Porter Moser, who had recruited Thomas to Saint Louis, took the head coaching job at Loyola in the spring of 2011, when Thomas was wrapping up his senior year of high school.

Soon after, the 6-foot-5 forward received a call from the newly anointed head coach. Moser was filling his first recruiting class, and he wanted Thomas to be his first commit.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t really pass up on,” Thomas said last week. “I took the visit here, fell in love with Chicago and the campus, and here I am.”

Thomas experienced plenty of losing during his first three seasons as a Rambler — 61 defeats to be exact, compared to 32 victories.

But this season, Thomas’ season year, was different. Loyola won 18 games in the regular season, finishing sixth during their second year in the Missouri Valley Conference after being the preseason last-place pick.

Photo: Loyola Athletics
Photo: Loyola Athletics

Thomas and the Ramblers came into the MVC Tournament looking to make a statement in Friday’s quarterfinal matchup with Indiana State. They did that and more.

Loyola stormed to an 81-53 win. The Ramblers led by as many as 39 points at one point in the second half.

With several family and friends in attendance, Thomas led the way with a game-high 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting to go along with 6 rebounds and 3 assists.

“Honestly, I didn’t feel any pressure coming back home,” Thomas said afterwards. “I can’t say it was just another game, but I just know that I have a lot of support from my family and friends. I could have gone out there and had the worst game of my life, but I knew they would still back me up with everything I was trying to do.

Thomas showed off his full scoring arsenal in the victory. He posted up and scored over Indiana State big men Jake Kitchell and Justin Gant, despite giving up nearly a half-foot to each of them. He nailed a mid-range jumper.

And, to cap it off, Thomas had a pair of resounding dunks. His first was one for the highlight reel, as he dribbled behind his back in transition and finished with a one-handed flush.

The aggressive attitude was a point of emphasis for not only Thomas, but the entire Loyola team as well.

“We had a mantra going into our timeouts that we weren’t going to let up because [Indiana State] hadn’t let up,” Thomas said. “They had beaten us the last five times. They hadn’t let up on us. So we had to keep taking the fight to them. We weren’t just satisfied with playing hard for 30 minutes. We had to execute for 40.”

Moser said in the prior meeting with Indiana State, he told his team they have to “match” Indiana State’s toughness. But he thinks that was a mistake.

“You can’t just match their toughness. We’ve got to be tougher,” Moser said. “We’ve got to do all that, and they just took it to heart.”

Loyola advances to the semifinals Saturday, where it will face No. 2 seed Northern Iowa, which is ranked No. 11 in the nation.

For Thomas, not only is this a chance to help his team get a marquee win and reach Sunday’s championship game, but it’s also another chance for him to shine in his hometown.

“Getting to come back and play a great game in front of them tonight and getting an opportunity to win another one tomorrow, it’s going to be great,” Thomas said.

Author: Jesse Kramer

Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He has had work featured on, College Insider, The Comeback/Awful Announcing, and 247Sports.

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