Loyola Chicago (6-8, 1-1 MVC) is looking to string together back-to-back wins for the second time this season. The Ramblers are coming off a commanding, 89-57 victory against Missouri State, and they will host the Southern Illinois Salukis (4-11, 0-2 MVC) tonight.
The Salukis lost their first two Missouri Valley Conference games of the year to Wichita State and Illinois State. Their practice time has been limited leading up to their bout with Loyola due to their bus breaking down while traveling home from Normal, IL, on Sunday night.
Though the Salukis may be a bit rusty to start Wednesday’s game, Loyola head coach Porter Moser is not giving their predicament much thought.
“We’re not really talking about that with our guys,” Moser said. “I’m not even remotely thinking, ‘Oh, this could work to our advantage.’ I’m working on I know those guys are going to be ready to play.”
Southern Illinois has the individual pieces to be competitive, but so far it has not had much success this season.
Senior Desmar Jackson leads the team in scoring with 20.5 points per game, the second-best mark in the conference. Jackson has been limited to 19 points in each of his first two MVC games this year, but he has been efficient at 56.5% from the field.
Sophomores Jalen Pendleton and Anthony Beane also average double figures in scoring. Pendleton records 12 points per contest on 52.3% field-goal shooting while Beane averages 10.5 points and makes three-pointers at a 37% clip.
6’6″ freshman forward Sean O’Brien has shown signs of a bright future with the Salukis, posting 7.1 points and five rebounds per game.
Despite the talent on this group, a lack of chemistry has left them with only three wins against Division I teams and zero true road wins.
“I think the biggest for us more than anything is guys opening up their mouths and talking,” Southern Illinois head coach Barry Hinson said, emphasizing that his team is too quiet on the court.
Last time out, Loyola received another quality performance from sophomore shooting guard Devon Turk off the bench. Turk was a bright spot for Loyola last season, averaging 8.7 points and shooting 43.3% from beyond the arc as a freshman.
Through the Ramblers’ first 11 games, he was averaging only 8.6 points on 37.5% three-point shooting.
Turk started to break out with a 17-point performance against Fordham on Dec. 23, when he scored 14 points in the first half. But against Indiana State in Loyola’s MVC opener, the sophomore went for only eight points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Against Missouri State on Sunday, Turk exploded for a career-high 30 points. He shot 5-of-8 from deep, 13-of-13 at the foul line, and made his only two-point attempt.
“[I am] for sure leaving him on the bench — I don’t want to mess him up,” Moser said. “He hasn’t had the same bounce as he had as a freshman. He has a great personality off the court, and he wasn’t getting his personality into the game. His body language and everything was down. His personality is back.”
Sophomore center Cody Johnson has also been coming along nicely for Moser in recent weeks. The 6’10” junior college transfer was barely playing to start the season, but in his last three games he is averaging 12 points on 78.9% field-goal shooting.
Tonight, the Ramblers will shoot for a winning record in conference play while the Salukis will try to dig out of the league’s cellar. The Salukis are one of two winless teams in the MVC, along with Evansville.
Tip-off at Gentile Arena is slated for 7 p.m. CT.