CHICAGO — Improved point-guard play by junior Jeff White led Loyola to a 66-62 win Wednesday against Southern Illinois at Gentile Arena.
The Ramblers, who were without leading scorer Milton Doyle for the seventh straight game, scored 1.18 points per possession, their best mark since a Jan. 7 win at Evansville.
“I feel like we’ve been used to having Milt out,” White said. “Everybody’s been stepping up and we’re just tweaking little stuff in our offense to be more aggressive. It helped us out a lot.”
Loyola (15-10, 5-8 MVC) trailed 52-50 midway through the second half of a back-and-forth affair. Then the Ramblers used an 11-4 to grab a 61-56 lead they did not relinquish.
White, who finished with 7 points, 8 assists and 0 turnovers off the bench, sparked the offensive outburst. First, he found junior forward Montel James running the floor for a layup right after the big man blocked a shot on the defensive end.
After another defensive stop, White found freshman Donte Ingram in transition for a 3-point play.
“It was by far (my best game of the season),” White said. “I’ve had a lot of down times during this season so my coaches and teammates kept pushing me and motivating me here. Eventually I had to come through for the team, so fortunately I came out and gave it all for the team.”
Moser has stressed repeatedly that Loyola needed better point-guard play with Doyle, the who is also the team’s best passer, sidelined. White finally came through after Loyola coach Porter Moser placed the veteran on the practice scout team for the first time in a few years.
“I just said to the team about Jeff White, it’s 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond,” Moser said. “I put him all the way down on the scout team, and sometimes when you go over there it can happen two things: you can pout, or you get some confidence. On the scout team you can kind of let it fly, shoot a lot of shots with no pressure, and he made a bunch of shots the last couple of days in practice.”
“Never in my career had I felt that miserable,” White added about playing on the scout team. “Going to the scout team really awakened me, pushed me, motivated me to get back to where I was playing. It paid off today.”
Southern Illinois (10-16, 3-10) fought back on the road to keep the game tight until the end. The Salukis had three chances down just one possession in the final two minutes but failed to capitalize.
Down 64-62, junior Jalen Pendleton missed a jumper.
After Loyola guard Earl Peterson split a pair of free throws, leading scorer Anthony Beane missed badly on a good look from the right wing. Freshman forward Jordan Caroline grabbed the offensive rebound but was called for an offensive foul as he made his move to the basket with 42.8 seconds left.
While the offense the main story, Loyola’s defense was also fairly successful, holding Beane, one of the MVC’s best scorers to 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting, and only 2 points in the first half.
The Salukis got the stop they needed with 13 seconds to go, but sophomore guard Tyler Smithpeters fell down bringing the ball up the court, leading to a turnover.
“I felt like we did a pretty good job of putting ourselves in a position,” Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said.
While White facilitated the offense all night long, James led the Ramblers in scoring and rebounding for the second time in the team’s last three home games. The 6-foot-7 forward finished with 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting to go along with 8 boards.
“Just staying aggressive, that’s just the key to my success and the team’s success,” James said. “If I’m aggressive and I crash the boards and do whatever I can to help my team get the edge, then I’m gonna do it. Plain and simple.”
Loyola will try for its third win in four games when it heads to Bradley on Sunday. The Ramblers will likely be without Doyle for an eighth straight game.