ST. LOUIS — No. 2 seed Indiana State punched its ticket to the MVC Tournament semifinals with a 75-62, quarterfinal victory against No. 10 seed Loyola (Chicago). The Ramblers trailed only 26-22 at halftime but fell apart in the second stanza.
Still, Loyola (10-22, 4-14 MVC) was fortunate to be within two possessions at the intermission. The Ramblers made only four field-goals in the first period, turned over the ball six times and played most of the first 20 minutes without leading scorer Milton Doyle, who picked up two quick fouls.
“At halftime, being down 4 and the way we shot it, with those shots you’d think you were down 20,” Loyola head coach Porter Moser said. “We were within striking distance with Milt on the bench.”
Loyola had the disadvantage of playing in Thursday night’s opening round, where it defeated Bradley at the buzzer. Meanwhile, Indiana State (22-9, 12-6) was playing its first game in nearly a week.
The Ramblers failed to get necessary stops throughout the second half. But early on in the second, they were at least able to counter the Sycamores’ scores. With 10:56 to play, Loyola remained within single digits of Indiana State.
Then the Ramblers could not capitalize on a string of possessions with close looks at the bucket, and the Sycamores extended their lead to 16 points by the 7:20 mark.
“I don’t think fatigue was part of that,” Moser said. “Tournament setting, it’s only gameday two. I thought they were well rested. The shots just didn’t go down. I think we just missed them.”
Senior guard Lucas Eitel scored all seven of his points as the Sycamores built their lead in the second half. Eitel entered the game averaging only 2.2 points this season.
“I get on Lucas for passing up open shots,” Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing said. “He didn’t pass any up tonight.”
Indiana State’s lead grew to as many as 21 points late in the second period.
Sophomore guard Jeff White was the only Rambler to reach double figures in scoring with 13 points. Doyle, the MVC Freshman of the Year, was limited to five points on 1-of-7 shooting, and second-leading scorer Christian Thomas, a junior forward recorded 9 points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Indiana State senior wing Manny Arop was responsible for Doyle’s mediocre performance. The former Gonzaga transfer’s length kept the Freshman of the Year from getting clean looks at the rim, although he did dish out six assists.
“We didn’t play well enough to win, that’s for sure,” Moser said. “Defensively, they were very physical. They did a great job on our guards.”
The Ramblers’ bench lineup made a late run to close the gap to 13 in the final minutes. Graduate student Tony Nixon drilled two triples and converted a 3-point play, and senior walk-on Bill Clark drained a deep, pull-up trey.
“They competed like crazy, just like last night [against Bradley],” Lansing said. “They fought us till the very end today, and we knew they were going to.”
Senior guard Jake Odum led the Sycamores with 18 points and four assists while junior forward Justin Gant notched 14 points and four dimes.
Indiana State will face the winner of No. 3 seed Northern Iowa vs. No. 6 seed Southern Illinois in Saturday’s second semifinal.
“We’re ready to go,” Odum said. “We have one goal in mind, and that’s to win this thing.”