CHICAGO — Loyola pulled away from Norfolk State late in the second half on Wednesday for a 75-62 win. The Ramblers improved to 6-2 overall and 4-0 at Gentile Arena as juniors Clayton Custer and Aundre Jackson led the way.
Here are five thoughts on the Ramblers’ victory.
Loyola shared the ball to near perfection.
The Ramblers entered Thursday averaging 17 assists and were in the top 75 in assists per made field goal. They dished out 19 times on 25 field goals and turned the ball over only three times against Norfolk State. The 76% assist rate was Loyola’s best mark since a 2015 CBI win over Oral Roberts (76.9%).
“We have a lot of unselfish guys,” junior point guard Clayton Custer said. “If we drive and kick, we’re not selfish, we’re not gonna go up for a bad shot. We’re gonna draw two [defenders], kick, make extra passes. Stuff like that. I think that’s how we hurt teams when we play smaller.”
Loyola had six different players with multiple assists. Junior guard Ben Richardson led the team with five while junior wing Donte Ingram had four despite leaving early with a knee injury. Loyola’s starters combined for 14 assists and one turnover.
“I can’t say enough of the chemistry of this team willing to share the ball,” coach Porter Moser said. “I’m really pleased with how we’re moving the ball, passing the ball and we had a bunch of other ones that led to fouls that you don’t get the assist on.”
It’s not every day a 6-of-13 shooting night tanks a player’s field-goal percentage.
I’m only teasing Aundre Jackson here — well, kind of. Jackson was once again among Loyola’s best offensive players with 17 points and two assists. It’s a testament to his scoring ability straight out of junior college that a 6-of-13 shooting performance (46.2%) is by far his worst through eight games.
As Custer told Jackson after the game, “I’d be happy with it.” (However, Custer had Jackson beat tonight with a game-high 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting.)
“Just shooting smart shots, the shots I know I can make,” Jackson said has been the secret to his success.
Even so, Jackson has been one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball, shooting 71.8% from the field this season. The Co-MVC Player of the Week is averaging 15.9 points and 5.1 rebounds, so if he keeps this up Loyola could have an all-conference big man for the third straight season. Christian Thomas earned honorable mention in 2014-15, and Montel James made the second team last year.
“It’s funny because Aundre shoots like 45% and we’re like, that’s a bad game,” Moser said. “He picks up offense fast. Just like we did with C.T. and Montel, we’re getting him the ball in a number of spots where he can be successful.”
Custer seems to have really found his 3-point shot.
It was only a matter of time before Custer found a groove from three, and it’s not like he was struggling from there to begin with. But after a 4-of-5 performance from downtown against Norfolk State, he has made 6 of his last 8 and is shooting 50% on treys this season.
Custer made two three’s and had 12 points total in the final nine minutes as Loyola pulled away.
Loyola got out-rebounded badly for the first time this season.
The Ramblers lost the rebounding battle by a slim margin a few different times this season, but Norfolk State completely controlled the glass on Wednesday. The Spartans out-rebounded Loyola by seven and were +12 in rebounding percentage, a measure of rebounds per missed shots.
“Going in I told our guys this would be the biggest rebounding test of the year,” Moser said. “We’ve played Washington State, St. Joe’s, NC State. I was more worried about the rebounding for this game and rightfully so. They just constantly send a lot of guys. That was what was a little bit disturbing.”
Loyola moves on to its biggest test of the season on Saturday.
The Ramblers host San Diego State, which is currently ranked No. 47 in KenPom. The Aztecs’ only loss this season is on the road to Gonzaga without two of their best players, and they also have a neutral-site win against Cal.
San Diego State boasts the nation’s 22nd-most efficient defense, according to KenPom.
“It’s Wichita State-like defense,” Moser said. “You talk to anybody in the Mountain West, and the way they talk about San Diego State defense is the way we talk about Wichita defense. Very physical, very long, very athletic. They take you out of everything. So it’s going to be a huge challenge. It’s going to be one of the best defensive teams we’ll see all year.”
San Diego State will be the highest-ranked team by KenPom to visit Gentile Arena in non-conference play since Kansas State in December 2010.