ST. LOUIS — No. 1 seed Wichita State overcame foul trouble and a gritty performance by No. 8 seed Loyola to survive with a 66-58 victory Friday in the MVC Tournament quarterfinals.
The Shockers advance to Saturday’s semifinals, where they will face either No. 4 seed Northern Iowa or No. 5 seed Southern Illinois.
It was basically a Wichita State home game. For the first time since Loyola joined the Valley, Arch Madness did not line up with the school’s spring break, which hurt student turnout in St. Louis.
Meanwhile, Wichita State packed the house as expected, filling up nearly half of the Scottrade Center’s lower bowl by my eye.
A big swing late in the first half. Despite a long scoring drought, Loyola (15-17, 7-11 MC) used excellent defense to stay close and trailed 18-13 with 18-13 with 5:27 remaining in the first half.
Then Wichita State forward committed a flagrant foul, tripping Loyola forward Maurice Kirby, gifting the Ramblers two free throws and ensuing possession. But Kirby, who was 5-of-12 at the line in the regular season, missed both tosses and then committed a moving screen turnover.
Wichita State wing Zach Brown answered with a 3-pointer. After consecutive Loyola travels, Shockers guard Ron Baker pulled up for a NBA-range trey. After having a chance to tie the game at 18-18, the Ramblers found themselves down 24-13 three minutes before halftime.
Devon Turk saved Loyola at the end of the first half. The senior guard, who is Loyola’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers, drained back-to-back triples, one a pull-up from several feet behind the arc, to pull Loyola within 29-21 in the final minute after Wichita State (24-7, 16-2) had taken a 12-point lead.
The Ramblers went into halftime down 30-21.
Foul trouble favored Loyola early but hurt the Ramblers late. Fred VanVleet, Shaquille Morris and Evan Wessel all picked up two fouls in the first half. VanVleet and Morris each got whistled for their third early in the second half spent plenty of time on the bench, which is especially rare for VanVleet.
However, the Shockers did a better job of not fouling while continuing to play tight defense later in the second half, and meanwhile Loyola forward Montel James picked up four fouls, all after halftime. James is Loyola’s best post option on offense and defense by a wide margin, and coach Porter Moser was forced to put in backup Julius Rajala for several possessions.
Turk and junior guard Milton Doyle continued in the second half with inspiring performances. Turk paced the scoring effort with 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including three 3-pointers.
Doyle, a 6-foot-4 guard who had high preseason expectations this season but has struggled, played lockdown defense and was effective running the offense with 10 points and five assists.
It was clear that these two players would do everything in their power to keep their season from ending.
Behind these two with some help from the supporting cast, Loyola led 52-45 with nine minutes remaining.
But Ron Baker’s will was stronger than his opponents’. The Shockers senior guard was the team’s best weapon all afternoon, finishing with a game-high 25 points.
After Loyola opened up a 52-45 lead late in the second half, Baker drained back-to-back threes, including an off-balance on while attempting to draw a foul.
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Baker then drained the go-ahead trey with 1:54 remaining, giving Wichita State a 57-55 lead.
Baker was also a beast on the defensive end with help from Morris. Loyola faced a scoring drought that lasted over three minutes in crunch time before Earl Peterson’s and-one got the Ramblers back on the board with 21 seconds left.