Takeaways from Loyola vs. Illinois State

Photo: David Proeber

This Illinois State-Loyola series is turning into a fun one, although the Ramblers will have to start winning more to ever make it a rivalry. Loyola took Illinois State to the wire at Redbird Arena on Sunday for the second straight year but once again fell just shy of a victory as Ben Richardson’s 40-footer at the buzzer rimmed out in a 65-63 loss.

Here’s what we learned as the Ramblers fell to 17-12 and 7-9 in the Valley in heartbreaking fashion.

Loyola has shown it can play with the best teams in the Valley, but can they beat them?

Illinois State and Wichita State are each 15-1 with the only losses coming to each other, but Loyola has been just a few plays away from handing each team an additional loss on the road.

On Sunday, the Ramblers had a couple of chances to win at ISU in the closing seconds. The game at Wichita was not quite as close, but Loyola still had the ball down 81-75 with a minute to go.

Keep in mind that the Redbirds are 14-0 at home this season and the Shockers are 15-1.

That being said, Loyola also got rocked at home by Illinois State on Jan. 1 and couldn’t hang with Wichita State in the second half at Gentile Arena earlier this month.

Maybe this team is better away from home?

Loyola keeps building holes that it can’t crawl out of.

It started with the Toledo loss and continued in the MVC opener at Drake as Loyola built double-digit deficits only to make roaring comebacks and fall a few points shy. It happened again at Wichita State a few games later and once more in Evansville earlier this month.

Sunday was just the most recent example. Even though Loyola has successfully climbed out of big holes twice — at UIC (an overtime win) and at Missouri State (an overtime loss) — it’s a troubling trend for a team that needs to win three games in three days at Arch Madness to make a meaningful postseason tournament.

Coach Porter Moser was still proud of his team’s effort at Illinois State.

“They’ve showed this resiliency all year,” Moser said. “They believe. I love the character of this group, the locker room, the culture. I’m disappointed for them. I thought they battled really hard. … I’m hurting for [my players] because they left it on the floor.”

The play that decided the game was a foul on the floor with 3.9 seconds left, and Moser was frustrated by the call.

Shooting a 1-and-1, Deontae Hawkins made both free throws, and then Loyola’s desperation attempt for the win misfired.

“The fact is we’ve gotten three fouls under four seconds either tied or up [on the floor],” Moser said. “That’s a fact. That’s frustrating. … Just please, please let the kids earn it. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t want to take a single thing away from Illinois State. Man, you know how hard — let me switch it to a positive — how hard it is for Hawkins to step up and make those free throws? Let’s everyone be real. You guys are right there doing an awesome job to be in the NCAA Tournament. You don’t want to lose to us. Hawkins knows that. … Those were really big-time free throws for Hawkins.”

Milton Doyle is still making a run for MVC Player of the Year.

The 6’4″ senior guard turned in 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists and was pretty clearly the best player overall despite not shooting the ball well from the outside. His facilitation was a key part in Loyola scoring 1.05 points per possession, the most by any team at Redbird Arena this season.

For the year, Doyle is now averaging 15.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.6 steals.

Going into the last week of the season, I’m deciding between Doyle and Paris Lee for Player of the Year, although there are a few others that could sneak into the conversation still.

If MiKyle McIntosh is actually hurt again, Illinois State’s special season could be in trouble.

McIntosh slipped on the final play of the game and limped off the court. Redbirds coach Dan Muller said he assumes the junior forward will be OK, but also said he had no idea yet if McIntosh would be available to start Wednesday’s game against Southern Illinois.

McIntosh tore his meniscus in late January. Although ISU went 4-1 in the five games he missed, they get demolished at Wichita State by 41 points. He was a conference player of the year candidate before getting hurt, and the Redbirds likely can’t beat Wichita State without him.

Porter Moser had a little postgame rant. Here’s some context.

Loyola’s student paper, the Phoenix, ran a column on Wednesday on Moser’s coaching style hurting players’ confidence, particularly with post players. But the column had no quotes from Moser or even from players who transferred explaining their decision to leave Loyola, relying heavily on speculation.

Moser did not address that column specifically, but he did chew into a Phoenix reporter after the game. (Worth noting: this was not the same student who wrote the column.)

Here’s the full exchange.

Phoenix reporter Henry Redman: “You had the four-game losing streak and then you come here and almost beat one of the best teams in the Valley. How has that affected the mentality headed towards Arch Madness?”

Moser: “You’re with the Loyola Phoenix, right? Yeah. Figured, because you brought up the four-game losing streak. I just figured you’d go there. But it hasn’t. If you did your facts, we beat Indiana State last game, so it’s not a four-game losing streak. I thought our guys came in here and played great. I thought they played their tails off, and I’m really proud of them. And that’s the story — that they came in and almost knocked off the tied for the No. 1 team in the league. I think that’s the story that’s worthy with that. But we did beat Indiana State last game.”

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