CHICAGO — Defense has been Loyola’s calling card ever since making a run last February in the Missouri Valley. But after allowing Illinois State to shoot 58.3 percent from the field Wednesday, the Ramblers have allowed 1.22 points per possession in their last three games.
Aside from a slow start to the second half, Illinois State’s offense was grooving all night as the Redbirds won 78-70 at Gentile Arena. The Redbirds finished with a season-high 1.30 points per possession, easily eclipsing their previous high of 1.21.
A few games ago, Loyola’s defensive efficiency ranked in the nation’s top 100. Now the Ramblers are barely above the Division I average, ranking No. 169 out of 351 teams.
“We’ve got to reevaluate some things,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “Defense has been something we’ve stuck with all year. Some guys are being real physical with us. We’ve got to find some answers defensively.”
Illinois State ate Loyola alive in the post. Sophomore Deontae Hawkins dominated the first half and then stepped out to hit a dagger 3-pointer in the closing minutes, taking advantage of a blown defensive assignment by Loyola.
Sophomore MiKyle McIntosh took over in the second half, scoring 14 of his 21 points in the final 20 minutes. He shot 9-of-15 from the field and also had six rebounds.
Reserve big men Nick Banyard and Quintin Brewer were effective in small spurts, combining for 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting.
Loyola has the smallest front court in the Missouri Valley, and Illinois State imposed its will.
“When they go to their small lineup, they’re really hard to guard, but they’ve got four guards,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “We’ve got some guys with physicality that we did want to take advantage of, and our guys did a great job of executing.”
When Moser used the small lineup, 6-foot-4 guard Ben Richardson often had to match up with McIntosh, who stands at 6-foot-7 and weighs 234 pounds. The Ramblers had no answer for the physical forward.
“He’s tough,” Loyola guard Ben Richardson said. “We were trying to dig down, get it out of his hands. But he did a good job of pass faking, hesitating and putting his shoulder down and getting to the basket. I don’t think we matched his physicality enough.”