BY STEFAN MODRICH/@StefanJModrich
Loyola’s perfect record at home didn’t last long into 2017 as the Ramblers (10-5) squandered a five-point advantage late in the first half and were buried by a series of Illinois State runs, falling 81-59 to the Redbirds (10-4) in their return to Gentile Arena on Sunday.
With the student section empty during winter break and the stands full of red-clad fans, the trip up from Bloomington to Rogers Park felt like a home game for head coach Dan Muller.
“If anybody will play us in Chicago, we’d love to come up and play you,” Muller said. “They were loud, and our team, I could see it on their faces… they were pretty fired up by our crowd.”
The Ramblers couldn’t get much going aside from redshirt sophomore guard Clayton Custer (17 points, two assists) and senior guard Milton Doyle (11 points, two assists). The two leading Loyola scorers were the team’s only offensive bright spots other than junior forward Donte Ingram, who made the best of his limited involvement with seven points and three rebounds.
“We took the proverbial punch and we never responded,” said Loyola head coach Porter Moser. “Against a good team like Illinois State, you’re gonna take some punches. You’ve got to be able to respond to their runs. We never responded.”
In the first half, Loyola used an 8-0 run to take go ahead 22-17, its largest lead of the day.The sequence began after Doyle drew an and-one and Custer drilled a pair of threes, the second of which came after a steal.
Other than that, Loyola counterpunches were rare.
Without much else to look back fondly upon, the first half did feature “a little bit of everything,” offensively for the Ramblers.
“We got it into (Aundre Jackson) one time, we knocked down a shot,” Moser said. “We did a couple different things.”
The Ramblers had 16 team assists, eight in each half. Custer had a pair, while freshman guard Bruno Skokna had five in just 18 minutes.
“When we move the ball and share ball like that, we’re really hard to guard,” Custer said. “That’s why we started off the year so well, and that’s what we haven’t been doing the last few games.”
Illinois State shot 57% on the afternoon and 47% from behind the arc in the rout. The Redbirds led by as much as 28 in the second half, cruising ahead after taking a 39-28 advantage into the break.
Senior forward Deontae Hawkins (16 points and five rebounds) and junior forward MiKyle McIntosh (14 points and nine rebounds) led the way for the visitors, while Keyshawn Evans provided a spark off the bench with 10 points.
But it was the airtight Redbird zone defense that stymied Loyola and kept the Ramblers out of the paint.
“They kind of went on that run,” Custer said of the 20-4 scoring burst from Illinois State at the end of the first half. “They punched us in the mouth and we didn’t fight back. It wasn’t a good showing by us today at all.”
Custer characterized his defensive effort as “terrible,” and said the holes in Loyola’s 1-3-1 zone caused the Ramblers to allow some easy baskets inside.
Moser praised the length and athleticism of the Redbirds on defense, but Custer said the loss was a much on him as it was Loyola’s opponent.
“As guys who have played a lot of basketball in our lives, we should know how to get into stuff. We know how to play against the zone,” Custer said. “We just didn’t execute the way we can.”
The Redbirds held Loyola to their second-worst shooting percentage of the season, at 41 percent. They also forced 12 turnovers and held a plus-11 advantage in team rebounding.
“You’ve gotta give them credit,” Moser said. “We just didn’t play well against it, and we have been before… So it’s disappointing.”
Loyola hosts Northern Iowa on Wednesday, Jan. 4 at 6 p.m.