No. 8 seed Loyola had to grind for 40 minutes but came out on top, 74-66, Thursday in a first-round matchup with No. 9 seed Bradley at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
The Ramblers (15-16, 7-11 MVC) were tied 29-29 at halftime and led 63-57 with 3:43 remaining.
“You’ve got to give [Bradley] credit because those young kids, they’ve got them believing,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “Sometimes a young team, three minutes left, you’re down eight or nine, they can kind of pack it in. They never felt that way.”
A layup by senior forward Montel James off an outstanding save and half-court pass from sophomore guard bumped the lead up to eight points, and then senior guard Earl Peterson drilled a 3-pointer for the dagger with 1:07 to play.
James feasted against a taller Bradley front line, posting 20 points and 17 rebounds. He single handedly put the Braves in foul trouble, getting to the line 16 times. Bradley forward Luuk van Bree fouled out while three other players had four fouls.
“We really talk about Montel has to go somewhere, use his quickness,” Moser said. “I think he plugged away all game long and made enough plays on the offense I have end, but defensively, we leaned on him a lot because he went up by the rim to get a bunch of rebounds.”
Sophomore wing Donte Ingram added a career-high 19 points for Loyola, including 17 in the second half, while Richardson had six points, five assists and six steals.
“The first half, we were pretty sluggish, and I know I could have been better and helped our team,” Ingram said. “And the second half, I just wanted to come out and be aggressive whenever I could. Any chance I got, I would take it. It just worked out for the best for me.”
Freshman guard Ronnie Suggs paced Bradley (5-27, 3-15) with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting along with 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.
While the Loyola’s struggles against Bradley, one of the worst teams in Division I does not bode well for Friday’s quarterfinal matchup with No. 1 seed Wichita State, Ramblers star guard Milton Doyle got in foul trouble and fouled out in 11 minutes of action, so he will actually be well-rested against the Shockers. That may not be enough to upset the best defensive team in college basketball, but it certainly won’t hurt.
“We’ve just got to stay looking forward and just go into tomorrow with a great mindset that anything could happen,” James said. “Anything can happen, so we’ve just got to go into the game tomorrow and play aggressive.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated with quotes at 12:27 a.m. on March 4, 2016.