CHICAGO — With his sport jacket thrown aside and his shirt half-untucked, Porter Moser stomped his feet and raised his arms, signaling the Gentile Arena crowd to get loud as Loyola battled Indiana State in overtime. The Loyola coach had watched his team lose an 11-point lead in regulation and wanted all the help he could get to avoid another gut-wrenching defeat in Missouri Valley play.
The Ramblers needed every little bit as they eked out a 104-96 victory in double overtime.
“I know I probably looked extremely disheveled,” said Moser, who was battling flu-like symptoms. “I was just in the moment of the game. I was just proud of our guys battling.”
In early January, Loyola (10-12, 3-7 MVC) lost three consecutive games by a combined five points, bringing the team’s Valley record to 0-5. Two defeats came on shots in the final 15 seconds.
Moser questioned his veteran’s leadership after the string’s final loss to Bradley. He shook up the lineup the following game at Northern Iowa, moving seniors Montel James and Devon Turk and junior Milton Doyle to the bench. Since then, the Ramblers are 3-2.
“A lot of those games, we learned from it,” Turk said. “That’s why we were able to pull it out this game.”
This time, Moser had only praise for his veterans.
James led Loyola with 28 points and 14 rebounds, both career-highs. The 6-foot-7 forward single-handedly put Indiana State in foul trouble, shooting 18-of-20 on free throws. After shooting 56.1 percent on free throws last season, James is now shooting 77.1 percent this season.
“I was just posting hard and being aggressive,” James said. “It got me to the line, and I knocked down free throws.”
Moser took notice of James’ hard work.
“Montel was just a beast down there,” Moser said. “I thought he was battling for post position like I’ve never seen him.”
Turk exploded for 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting after scoring a grand total of two points in his last three outings.
Senior guard Jeff White recorded 12 points, two assists and two steals. White disappeared from a statistical standpoint in the second half after scoring 10 points in the first, but he continued to make hustle plays and feed the team energy.
“Bringing energy to the team as the leader, I just wanted to be aggressive from the start, get my team going,” White said. “Hopefully they fed off of me, which they did.”
Doyle struggled with 3-of-9 shooting and three turnovers, but he hit two key jumpers in the second overtime as well as several free throws in crunch time.
Similarly, senior guard Earl Peterson, who played through a “severely sore hip,” scored only five points but hit a game-tying jumper with eight seconds left in the first overtime.
As much as the numbers matter, Moser was as impressed with his veterans’ display of intangibles. Loyola made several hustle plays, and Moser thought the seniors showed significant progress in leadership.
“Today there were a bunch of runs that weren’t going our way. They were playing like seniors should,” Moser said. “They looked like they wanted to win. We went through that stretch a couple of weeks ago when our leadership guys were quiet. I like to see that fire in those veterans. I hope we’re going to build on it.”
The veterans’ fiery attitude helped the Ramblers to a blistering start offensively.
Indiana State (12-10, 6-4) entered with the 20th-most efficient defense in Division I, according to KenPom. The Ramblers torched the Sycamores for 72 percent field-goal shooting in the first half.
“We let them get comfortable,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “I can’t remember ever one of our teams ever giving up something like that. Porter had them ready to go.”
Despite shooting 38.9 percent in the second half and overtime, Loyola finished with 1.24 points per possession, the team’s highest mark of the season.
Loyola has struggled plenty this season, but Saturday was one of the team’s better performances. While the Ramblers allowed 1.14 points per possession, they generally did a better job than in past meetings keeping Indiana State guards Brenton Scott and Devonte Brown out of the defense’s teeth.
Scott had a game-high 28 points thanks to 6-of-11 3-point shooting, and Brown scored 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting. However, the duo also combined for eight turnovers.
Moser and his players took note that last season the team had a 3-7 conference record through 10 games. The 2014-15 squad won five of its last eight games, advanced to the MVC Tournament semifinals and won the CBI postseason title.
The Ramblers have rediscovered their confidence, much like they did around this time last year.
“It’s good to see each other smiling, hugging each other again,” White said. “It’s a great win, a starting point for us. We see what we’re capable of doing.”
Moser, exasperated and losing his voice, was just pleased his team flipped the script on what had previously defined his team’s January — losing close games it should win.
“That was one of those games where you hate to see any team lose,” Moser said of the double-overtime thriller. “I’m glad it wasn’t us. We needed that.”