CHICAGO — Ben Richardson hit two big 3-pointers and Clayton Custer hit from deep in the final minute as Missouri Valley Conference champion Loyola-Chicago pulled away from Illinois State late to win its regular season finale, 68-61 on Saturday afternoon.
In their 100th anniversary season the Ramblers (25-5, 15-3) already clinched their first outright regular season championship since 1984-85 and first as a member of the MVC. They won their program-record 15th conference game and have won seven straight, 14 of their last 15 and 15 of their last 16 on their home floor.
Illinois State, which had a three-game winning streak at Gentile Arena kept the game close and found answers for every Loyola run. When Richardson knocked down a big 3 with 2:23 left, William Tinsley answered to cut the Ramblers' lead to one, 58-57. But Richardson answered from deep again to make it 61-57.
Custer, who averages just under 15 points per game and who missed five games due to injury (including three of its five losses) was 0-for-9 before finding open space on the wing, taking a long pass from Cameron Krutwig and knocking down a clutch 3 that made it 64-59 with :59 left.
Tinsley missed two 3-point attempts for the Redbirds while Marques Townes and Richardson each made a pair of free throws to close it out.
Krutwig finished with 16 points, with Richardson adding 12 and Donte Ingram 11.
Tinsley led Illinois State (16-4, 10-8) with 21 points, with Keyshawn Evans adding 20.