Loyola Chicago head coach Porter Moser called for time after watching Missouri State (11-3, 1-1 MVC) cut his Ramblers’ lead from 19 points to 12 points with 10:25 remaining.
The Ramblers had squandered double-digit leads in the second half four times in non-conference play, flipping what could have been an 9-3 out of league record to 5-7.
In the huddle, Moser made sure his players would not let it happen again in Sunday evening’s Missouri Valley Conference home opener.
“We’ve been in this position before with leads in the second half, we’ve called a timeout, and we’ve had a little deer-in-the-headlights look,” Moser said after the game. “We talked in that huddle about being opportunistic and being aggressive.”
The Ramblers responded to their coach with a 14-0 run in the next 2:19, taking a commanding 74-48 advantage.
The run extended to 22-2, and Loyola (6-8, 1-1 MVC) eventually won in a blow out, 89-57.
“We’ve had games where it’s that kind of thing happens, we’ll call a timeout, and then we’re walking out there feeling sorry for ourselves, like ‘here we go again,'” junior forward Christian Thomas said. “You could tell from just looking at the guys who were out there and our bench that we knew we were going to win the game.”
However, the Ramblers did flash the complacency that had plagued them in second halves earlier in the season at the eight-minute mark.
After freshman guard Milton Doyle drained a three-pointer to push Loyola’s lead to 74-48, junior guard Joe Crisman was the only Rambler to hustle back on defense. The outmatched Crisman wound up committing a foul to prevent an easy layup before yelling to his team, “Get back on D!”
From that point on, Loyola maintained its aggressive attitude and sense of urgency.
“We get quiet sometimes late in the game,” Moser said. “Joe gets us talking. … Joe is definitely our best guy at echoing things and yelling out stuff.”
The victory was an historic one for Loyola, marking its first-ever in the MVC. The Ramblers, former long-time members of the Horizon League, joined the MVC this season to replace Creighton, which departed for the Big East.
Despite the hype surrounding Loyola’s first MVC home game, the crowd totaled a meager 1,024, presumably due to snow storms and below zero temperatures in Chicago.
The Ramblers created their own energy, however, from the start as six straight points from sophomore forward Cody Johnson put them up 8-7.
Though the Bears would close within one point twice, the Ramblers led the rest of the way.
Sophomore guard Devon Turk caught fire off the bench with 15 points in the first half, and he continuously hit big shot after big shot for the Ramblers
Turk paced Loyola with a career-high 30 shooting. The sophomore showed the potential for such a performance with 14 first-half points against Fordham in Loyola’s final non-conference matchup, but this was the most dominant he has ever been for a 40-minute stretch.
The Houston native, known for his long-range shooting, shot 5-of-8 on three-pointers, but he also put the ball on the deck and went to the foul line 13 times, where he converted every shot.
“I’ve been working in the gym, getting extra shots up,” Turk said. “That just built some confidence.”
Thomas, who entered Sunday as the team’s second-leading scorer with 14.4 points per game, picked up two quick fouls in the first half, and Moser sent him to the bench for the remaining 17 minutes of the period.
The Ramblers had struggled to find a post option aside from Thomas as Nick Osborne had a disappointing start and Matt O’Leary plays most of his game on the perimeter despite being 6’8″.
In the last three games, 6’10” sophomore Cody Johnson has come alive, averaging 12 points on 78.9% shooting. Against the Bears, he posted 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field.
“He’s played in practice with an energy,” Moser said. “I love his ability, stepping in with this energy.”
Thomas also posted 10 points, eight in the second half, while O’Leary had four and Osborne had two to round out Loyola’s frontcourt scoring.
The Ramblers’ backcourt combined for one of its most balanced performances of the season. Doyle recorded 13 points and five assists, White had 11 points and three dimes, and Crisman registered a team-high five rebounds along with seven points and two assists.
Missouri State struggled all night to find a flow offensively, but sophomore guard Marcus Marshall still managed a solid outing with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting to lead the Bears.
Freshman Devon Thomas posted 10 points off the bench but struggled at the foul line with 4-of-9 shooting.
Loyola returns to MVC action Wednesday night when it hosts Southern Illinois (4-11, 0-2 MVC) at 7 p.m. CT. Missouri State will continue its road trip at Bradley (6-9, 1-1 MVC), also Wednesday night.