Forward Montel James scored 21 points off the bench Monday to lead Loyola to a 72-67 win against Western Illinois (7-4) at Gentile Arena.
Loyola (7-5) led by 15 points in the second half, but a late Western Illinois run cut the lead to 65-62 with 1:36 remaining.
Junior guards Garret Covington and Jabari Sandifer scored every Western Illinois point in a 14-4 run before five unanswered points by Loyola put the Ramblers ahead 70-62 with 26 seconds left.
Covington’s fifth 3-pointer of the night, followed by a Loyola turnover and Western Illinois layup cut the Leathernecks’ deficit back to three points. But two free throws by James in the closing seconds put the game away at 72-67.
Covington, who finished with a team-high 19 points, scored 14 points and made four 3-pointers in the final 7:51. Loyola coach Porter Moser was impressed with how his team survived the late shooting barrage.
“What a great performance by Covington down the stretch,” Moser said. “I was proud of our guys to withstand that.”
James had missed three games earlier this month with a back injury, and in his second game back he was Loyola’s most dominant force. In addition to a game-best scoring total, James grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots. He shot 7-of-11 from the field and 7-of-9 at the foul line.
The 6-foot-7 senior is averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games since returning to the lineup.
James was supported by 17 points from senior guard Devon Turk and 12 points from sophomore forward Donte Ingram.
“I can’t tell you how much it means to us to have Montel James back,” Moser said. “Just to give you a low post presence, it’s freeing up Donte as well. I thought Donte and Montel were absolutely warriors.”
While Turk shot 6-of-10 from the field on his way to passing 1,000 career points, Ingram had one of his best all-around games since coming to Loyola. He scored efficiently making all four of his two-point and free-throw attempts. He also shot 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-6 talent also grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists.
With great production from James, Turk and Ingram, Loyola held on for the win despite star guards Milton Doyle and Earl Peterson combining for eight points on 1-of-12 shooting, along with six turnovers.
“Earl and Milt have carried us in so many games,” Moser said. “It shows you that we have some depth because I don’t know if those two will play like that offensively, together, at the same time hardly at all. We withstood it and beat a very good team.”