ST. LOUIS — Northern Iowa clamped down defensively Saturday to beat Loyola 63-49 in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinals.
“They’ve got 5 guys in sync that don’t miss their assignment defensively,” coach Porter Moser said. “Sometimes you get young teams, you get guys missing their assignments. They’re always on point defensively.”
Although the Ramblers shot a highly respectable 46.2 percent from the field, the Panthers limited them to one shot on every possession. Loyola (19-13, 8-10 MVC) had no offensive rebounds, while Northern Iowa (29-3, 16-2) had 5 offensive rebounds that turned into 10 points.
The Ramblers had a few opportunities to stay close with the Panthers in the second half. Northern Iowa always had the answer, whether that answer came in the form of a defensive stop, a key 3-pointer, or a putback.
And when Loyola was trying to make a late comeback, Northern Iowa forced long possessions on both ends of the floor, eating up the clock. Between that and the excellent defensive rebounding, Loyola attempted just 39 shots for the game.
“Frustrating is the word,” Moser said. “We felt last night we were trying to get tempo. They don’t let you get tempo. They take away so much. It’s like going to the dentist.”
After going down by 17 points in the second half, Loyola managed to hang around. The Ramblers cut the Panthers’ lead to 11 points, first at 50-39 and then at 58-47 with 4:52 left.
Loyola had a chance to get within single digits when guard Milton Doyle made a nice move into the lane, but the sophomore left the good look short.
“It’s tough when you get good looks like that and can’t get them to drop,” said junior guard Earl Peterson, who also had a crucial miss on a transition layup that hit too strong off the glass. He finished with 8 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
The Panthers also forced the Ramblers into 10 turnovers, 7 of which came in the game’s opening minutes. Although Doyle found teammates for 6 assists in addition to 11 points, he also had 4 of those giveaways.
“They were just very sound,” Doyle said. “They made very few mistakes. They play together.”
Loyola’s NCAA Tournament hopes are done, but it is hoping for a chance to play in a smaller postseason tournament. But right now, a semifinal loss still stings.
“It’s tough right now,” Peterson said. “We’re down. We felt like we could come in here and beat Northern Iowa, but we fell short. … We was capable of coming back but just couldn’t make the plays.”