Loyola turns another corner by clinching top five MVC finish

Photo: Jesse Kramer / thecatchandshoot.com

CHICAGO — It’s fitting that Loyola clinched its first-ever top five finish in the Missouri Valley on the same night the Gentile Arena crowd said goodbye to the man who carried them there.

Three years after winning MVC Newcomer and Freshman of the Year honors while Loyola struggled to a 4-14 last-place finish in its first Valley season, Milton Doyle went all out on his senior night with 16 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals in an 80-65 win.

Loyola (18-12, 8-9 MVC) clinched a top-six finish with the victory and moments later clinched a spot in the top five as Missouri State lost to Bradley. The last time the Ramblers finished in the top half of its conference was the 2006-07 season when they posted a 10-6 record to finish third in the Horizon League.

Although the Ramblers have long been eliminated from the regular season conference crown, they can still finish as high as third, and that’s something that didn’t seem possible so soon after moving to a tougher league with an already struggling program.

“We did a full [turnaround],” Doyle said when speaking to the program’s growth during his career. “We got a chance to finish top three in the league, so that’s a big goal and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish. We got some momentum going into this next game, so we got big plans.”

Loyola is guaranteed at least fourth place with a win Saturday at Southern Illinois. If Northern Iowa also loses to Illinois State and Loyola passes the Panthers in RPI, the Ramblers would move to third.

That’s big news for the media and fan base, but coach Porter Moser said he remains too locked in to the SIU game and MVC Tournament to think about the magnitude of what his team has already accomplished.

“I haven’t had time to process that yet,” Moser said. “I will after the season.”

Meanwhile, Doyle has cemented his name in the MVC Player of the Year conversation, which would also be a fresh occurrence for Loyola should he win the award next week. The Ramblers have not had a conference player of the year since the 1986-87 season. The program has not even had an all-league first team selection since Blake Schilb in 2006-07.

Nearly posting a triple-double while carrying Loyola to heights it has not seen in a decade will only help his case.

Other notes and quotes

—Junior guard Ben Richardson broke out of an offensive slump with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting along with 3 assists. It was the first time he’d scored in double figures and shot at least 40% from the field since Jan. 31 at Missouri State.

However, his backcourt mate Clayton Custer struggled for the second straight game with 2 points on 1-of-9 shooting, dropping him to 14.3% from the field in the last two outings.

“It was great to see Ben like that — we need him,” Moser said. “We need him and Clay going on the same night. That’s what it’s about coming down the stretch.”

—Doyle on the ovation he received upon leaving the game with 1:16 left and again after the final buzzer: “I can’t even explain it. I appreciate it, though. I appreciate all the fans that came out. I haven’t felt that in a long time, so I enjoyed it.”

—Moser on Doyle’s performance: “I’m really happy for Milt. Milt was special. He controlled the game in every aspect. His defense, his rebounding. Just his communication and leadership. That’s hard to do in your last home game. I’ve coached a lot of seniors that press on their senior night. Man, he just let the game come to him and he let his ability — didn’t get too sped up. He had a really special night.”

—Junior forward Donte Ingram on Doyle’s performance: “Oh man, he did a little bit of everything. … I mean, [his stats] sums it up right there. He’s always doing whatever it takes to win. He’s out there everywhere scrambling and helping this team in all kinds of ways. Obviously he’s been real big for this team his whole career and obviously this year.”

—Drake was led by junior guard Graham Woodward with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

—Drake shot 10-of-18 (55.6%) from three in the first meeting with Loyola, a 102-98 win for the Bulldogs. They made their first three attempts from deep Wednesday but shot just 6-of-24 (25%) the rest of the way.

—You can check out all the Arch Madness seeding scenarios here.

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