Loyola Chicago (9-15, 4-8 MVC) ended its three-game losing streak Sunday with a 79-69 victory at home against Illinois State (13-11, 6-6). The result was a complete turnaround from the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 11, when Illinois State suffocated Loyola in a 59-50, defensive battle.
The Ramblers came out attacking the Redbirds’ pressure defense and found a bunch of open looks.
“Our whole mentality was to be aggressive against the press because the last time we played them we were very passive,” Loyola head coach Porter Moser said. “We played the right way today. We shared the ball right from the get-go, our spacing was excellent.”
The victory was a personally important one for Moser. Moser was the head coach at Illinois State for four seasons from 2003-2007.
“I’m not going to sit here and say it’s not nice to have that win,” Moser said.
Loyola junior Joe Crisman said with a laugh that Moser “might have mentioned it a little bit” in the practices leading up to Sunday’s game. Crisman said the incentive was not there explicitly for motivation, but the team rallied around Moser as he faced his former employer.
“We knew it was a really big game for him, so we really focused in and took care of the job,” Crisman said. “That’s just kind of the character of our team.”
The Ramblers led nearly the entire way. Illinois State grabbed a 3-2 lead in the opening minute, but Crisman had the response from deep to quickly snatch back the advantage.
Crisman’s three-pointer started a 13-2 run that put the Ramblers up double figures.
Five straight points from Illinois State freshman Reggie Lynch brought his team within five at 17-12, but the Redbirds got no closer the rest of the way.
Loyola sophomore Devon Turk drilled a three-pointer from the corner, and two minutes later the Ramblers were back up by 13 points.
They took a 37-20 lead into halftime.
Illinois State sophomore Nick Zeisloft knocked in a pair of three-pointers early in the second half as the Redbirds cut their deficit to nine points.
Loyola built its lead back to double digits at the foul line, and then another three-pointer by Crisman brought the Loyola faithful to their feet.
Crisman’s trey put the Ramblers up 50-34. The contest never really felt close the rest of the way although the final score showed only a 10-point difference.
Moser said: “I told them, ‘You guys need to build on this. Don’t be satisfied.’ We’ve had spurts like this where we’ve played well. It can’t just be a relief that we played well. It’s got to be a motivation that we played well that we can get better.”
Crisman and Loyola junior Christian Thomas led the Ramblers with 17 points apiece. Crisman also dished out three assists while Thomas recorded eight rebounds and a season-high four dimes.
For Crisman, the 17 points were a career-high.
Freshman guard Milton Doyle posted 14 points, five rebounds and five assists as he continued his campaign for MVC Freshman of the Year. Sophomore Jeff “Keke” White also dished out five dimes.
“Part of being a great player is making other people better,” Moser said. “I thought Keke and Milt helped those other guys play better by facilitating.”
Sophomore forward Nick Osborne turned in his best performance as a Rambler with career-highs of 14 points and nine boards. He also shot a perfect 6-of-6 from the field.
Osborne’s surge in the recent weeks has been vital for Loyola. Without him, the Ramblers lacked a true big man with size and athleticism.
Illinois State was led by freshman guard Paris Lee, who recorded 14 points.
Junior guard Daishon Knight registered 10 points, four rebounds and five assists.
The loss was Illinois State’s third straight on the road. Overall, the Redbirds are 4-8 on the road, 1-5 in the MVC.
“We’re becoming a good home team and a bad road team, and that’s not the way to go,” Illinois State head coach Dan Muller said. “We just haven’t had the energy to win on the road.”
Loyola brought in its second-largest crowd of the season with official attendance at 2,664. However, a large portion of those in attendance were Illinois State fans.
Crisman said the Ramblers have gotten used to opponent’s fans and have learned not to mind them, both at home and on the road.
“When we were at Wichita State, they had a lot of people there. The guys that were out there, they stayed composed,” Crisman said. “That was a big game for us. We felt like that since we were able to stay composed in that game, with other fans in other games, that’s going to be good for us.”
Loyola returns to action Wednesday at Northern Iowa (11-13, 5-7). The Ramblers defeated the Panthers at home Jan. 25, 93-87 in overtime.
“There’s no time to start a run like right now,” Moser said. “That’s why we’ve got to build on this effort.”