CHICAGO — It’s posted on the wall of Loyola’s locker room at Gentile Arena: don’t leave a corner shooter. But that’s exactly what senior guard Jeff White did Wednesday in the final seconds of Loyola’s 54-53 loss to Bradley.
With Loyola leading 53-51, White hovered near the left elbow to help prevent a drive to the basket, leaving Bradley senior Donte Thomas open in the left corner. When Bradley guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye flipped the ball over to Thomas in front of the Braves bench, White recovered enough to put a hand in Thomas’ face.
Thomas swished the shot regardless with 11.6 seconds remaining.
“I over-helped too much and he threw it over the top of me,” White said.
Loyola raced down the court and found three looks at the rim, but each one rimmed out. The Ramblers, having fallen to 0-5 in the Missouri Valley, stood stunned on their home floor, watching the Braves form a dogpile in celebration.
Loyola coach Porter Moser called out his veterans after the game, saying the lessons they should be learning each game and practice are not “sticking.” Moser compared his team with Northern Iowa, where coach Ben Jacobson feels leaders are meeting standards.
“We had some alpha-dog leaders last year,” Moser said. “It was Joe Crisman, Christian Thomas, and London Dokubo’s team last year.”
With that trio of seniors paving the way, Loyola won 24 games last season along with the CBI title. After an underwhelming non-conference performance this season, the Ramblers have declined further to the point where a last-place finish in the MVC is an evident possibility. Two weeks into 2016, Loyola holds a 7-10 overall record.
Moser has said he takes responsibility for the struggles. But after Wednesday’s loss he was frustrated with the players’ failure to execute the coaching staff’s game plan. What particularly upset the coach was that Loyola made only nine field goals in the second half.
“Here we are telling them to run on every single miss and play up-tempo and we score nine [baskets],” Moser said. “There’s a point where you’ve got to make some plays.”
White, as the point guard, often had the responsibility of pushing the tempo. But that falls on the entire team as well with rebounders needing to find the point guard first.
“Whatever coach wants us to do,” White said, “it’s [the seniors’] jobs to get it through the team and make sure it’s happening. But first it starts with us. If we’re messing up…”
White takes his responsibility to heart. Moser commended White after a loss Saturday to Missouri State, saying the Peoria native has worked hard to become a better team leader, particularly from a vocal standpoint. After the loss to Bradley, White said he gave the team an uplifting talk in the locker room.
But Moser’s concerns with team leadership exceed what goes on in the locker room. Part of the coach’s unease with this team is a here-we-go-again attitude on the court during adverse situations where the team starts “playing not to lose” rather than playing to win.
Senior guard Devon Turk said his first thought after Thomas hit the go-ahead shot was that Loyola had nearly 12 seconds left to counter with its own game-winner. White, however, thought differently.
“Not again,” White said was his first thought when Thomas’ shot found the net.
That is the attitude Moser wants to erase, but it persists.
Loyola’s seniors know what they must do to lead this team, but the disconnect has been in their execution. Moser said turning around this losing streak hinges on the veterans.
The veterans get the message.
“It’s three words: starts with us,” Turk said. “Because if it’s not us, who will it be?”