In its first true road game of the season, UIC (3-6) succumbed to Loyola Chicago (4-5) in a barnburner, 73-70. Although they built an eight-point lead in the first half, the Flames played almost the entire second half from behind, and their late comeback attempt fell short.
Trailing by five points in the final 20 seconds, UIC senior Kelsey Barlow’s three-point play cut the Loyola lead to 72-70. The Flames then fouled junior Christian Thomas, a 61.3% free-throw shooter, who split a pair at the foul line.
In need of a three-pointer, Barlow launched one from the right wing that rimmed out, and Loyola secured the final rebound.
With Loyola’s move from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley Conference, this was the first non-conference meeting between these two teams since the 1993-94 season. But, the rivalry’s intensity remained.
“When you get teams like this where both teams are fighting to win, you forget the past,” Loyola head coach Porter Moser said. ‘It’s just these two hours that counts.”
Loyola struggled to defend UIC early in the first half, allowing 24 points in the first nine minutes, but it turned the story around at halftime.
The Ramblers served up the first punch in the second half, using a 9-0 run to take a 46-39 advantage. Their lead reached as many as eight points, and the Flames could never fully recover.
“We didn’t defend at all to start the game,” Moser said. “We have kind of a mantra in our locker room that we want to make them [the Flames] call the first timeout [of the second half]. … I thought that set the tone.”
The defense certainly took a step up, as UIC shot only 40.7% in the second half compared to 61.5% in the first.
“Our story has been in the first half holding teams to 30 or 40[%], second half giving up 60%,” Moser said. “This flipped it.”
Part of the reason the Flames lacked the same scoring punch in the second half was that Barlow, their leading scorer, picked up his fourth personal foul early in the period. Along with Barlow, freshman guard Pat Birt committed four fouls, and Hayden Humes, Jake Wiegand, and Jay Parker all committed three.
“I don’t think digging into the bench was a problem,” UIC head coach Howard Moore said. “I think the fact that we could not get stops no matter who was on the floor was the problem.”
Four Ramblers scored in double figures, led by freshman guard Milton Doyle’s 18 points. Doyle, who also dished out five assists, shot 6-of-9 from the field. It was his second straight impressive outing, as he was coming off a 22-point performance at Mississippi State.
In three home games, Doyle is now averaging 20 points per contest.
“I’d like to take Gentile [Arena] with me wherever we go,” Moser joked. He continued seriously, “[Doyle] is very, very bright. He has the highest basketball IQ on the team. … He gives us a lot of dimensions because he is athletic.”
Thomas added 14 points and seven rebounds, and sophomore forward Nick Osborne, who was once again plagued by foul trouble, recorded 12 points on 5-of-5 field-goal shooting.
Thomas, who has been Loyola’s best inside presence this season, said is to begin the challenge of MVC competition.
“With these next few games and upcoming practices, we should be able to compete and get ourselves in a position to win,” Thomas said. “It’s something we’ve talked about all season and prepared for.”
Loyola has now won two of its last three games, but there is still plenty of work needed before the start of MVC play in a few weeks. The Ramblers committed 17 turnovers and were outrebounded against the Flames.
“We’ve got a lot of areas we’ve got to get better at,” Moser said. “We’ve got to be starving to get better.”
For UIC, junior guard Marc Brown led the way with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
Senior forward Hayden Humes had his best game of the season with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including a pair of big three-pointers in the second half, and seven rebounds.
“I challenged Marc and Hayden after the SMU game [on Wednesday],” Moore said. “I said, ‘Guys, you’ve got to wake up — we need you.’ I don’t want to have a team where we need a guy to score 40 points to help us win; that’s just not how we’re built. Those guys stepped up and they got some production offensively.”
Although Barlow, who was averaging 34.5 points in his last two games, was held to 10 points, he still recorded five assists and two steals.
With this loss, UIC is now only 2-6 against Division I competition.
“I’m sick of learning lessons with losses,” Moore said. “[But] I take blame for the fact that we’re not where we need to be because these men follow my path. … We’ve got to get a little more sense of urgency.”
Next weekend, UIC plays at Southeast Missouri (7-2) while Loyola hosts Campbell (4-4).
Other notes from Saturday night:
—UIC head coach Howard Moore on continuing the non-conference series with Loyola: “It’s good for Chicago, it’s good for college basketball in the city. Porter and I are on the same page with that, so we’re going to keep it going.”
—Loyola head coach Porter Moser on attacking opponents in foul trouble: “With these new rules, it certainly does [help]. We call it “body up, body in.” You want to do that with these new rules because the defense has to [back off], or they’re going to get a foul. You want to be aggressive.”
—UIC junior Marc Brown on continuing the rivalry despite no longer being in the same conference as Loyola: “It still does feel like a rivalry. They’re a cross-town rival. It was a big game for us.”
—Coach Moore on getting prepared for Horizon League competition: “We’ve got to embrace what it’s going to take to win in conference. And that’s going to be valuing the basketball, getting stops when you need to get stops, rebounding, and executing. If we can do those four things well, then we’ll be fine.”