There may not be a program in Division I that toys with its fanbase’s emotions better than Loyola. After an 0-5 start to Missouri Valley play sucked the air out of a once-promising season, the Ramblers regained some life Saturday with a 51-41 upset victory at Northern Iowa.
The Ramblers gave the Panthers nothing easy on offense, holding them to 27.1 percent shooting and forcing 13 turnovers.
Loyola (8-10, 1-5 MVC) did not play a pretty game either, but a strong second half where the Ramblers shot 12-of-24 (5o percent) and scored 1.07 points per possession was enough to end the five-game skid.
Northern Iowa (10-9, 2-4) led 22-19 at halftime. Loyola quickly gained the lead when sophomore guard Tyson Smith scored seven points in the first three minutes of the second half.
The Ramblers led for most of the second period, but Northern Iowa guard Jeremy Morgan made two free throws with 6:28 remaining to force a 38-38 tie.
On the ensuing Loyola possession, the Ramblers were in trouble with the shot clock winding down. Sophomore guard Ben Richardson was forced to pull up for a long, contested 3-pointer, and the prayer was answered. Two possessions later, Richardson made another triple to give Loyola a 44-38 lead.
While Richardson was the late-game hero and recorded 10 points and three steals, Loyola’s two biggest contributors were a pair of former starters who came off the bench in a shakeup by coach Porter Moser. Senior forward Montel James notched his second double-double of the season with 14 point and 12 rebounds. Junior guard Milton Doyle posted 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
While Morgan had 15 points for Northern Iowa on 4-of-10 shooting, the rest of the Panthers were ice cold. The Panthers, who looked like a possible NCAA Tournament at-large team early in the season with wins against North Carolina and Iowa State, have now lost four of their last five games.