CHICAGO – Loyola guard Marques Townes formally became the team’s second consecutive Larry Bird Player of the Year winner Tuesday, but the celebration really began after their title-clinching win over Bradley on Saturday.
Townes stepped up to speak to the crowd at Gentile Arena after the Ramblers won their share of the Missouri Valley Conference title. The crowd started chanting “MVP, MVP,” which was appropriate considering he had 26 points in the game that gave Loyola a share of the crown for a second-straight season.
When the crowd started praising the guard, Townes’ teammates joined in. That included Clayton Custer, who was MVP of the MVC last season.
It was a sight that stood out to head coach Porter Moser, who said during a press conference Tuesday that it reflects the team’s “cool culture.”
“It says to our culture that we’re all about each other,” Moser said.
Despite the fact that Townes was named the Bird Award winner on Tuesday, a very individual award, it’s the efforts by everyone at Loyola that made it such a shared honor. When discussing it on Tuesday, following a season in which he averaged 15.9 points, five rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game, the guard actually pointed to the 2018 season as the starting point that led to this moment.
In his first year at Loyola, on a team that won the MVC, Townes averaged 11.1 points per game, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. Yet when it came to postseason accolades, he got no consideration and was left off all the postseason lists. It was those around him that pointed that out, making sure it provided a healthy amount of motivation for the season.
“After the season last year, even the coaching staff, they pulled me aside and were like, ‘Listen, we know you got robbed,'” Townes said. “I wasn’t even on the all-league team, or anything. So I took that personally.”
The motivation showed, especially when he took on his conference foes, and his scoring average jumped to 18.1 per game. He went over the 20 point mark six times, and on February 5 he had a career-high 32 points in a win over Drake at Gentile Arena.
“I’m just happy that people are finally noticing now, I had that in the back of my mind the whole year,” Townes said. “I just wanted to prove myself.”
In doing so, he has helped Loyola earn the top seed in the Missouri Valley Tournament this week in St. Louis. Three wins will be necessary to clinch a second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, which would be a great accomplishment considering the up-and-down season the Ramblers have had after last year’s Final Four appearance.
The Larry Bird Award cements Townes’ significant part in putting the Ramblers in that position, yet he wanted to make sure the role of his teammates and coaches wasn’t forgotten.
“It’s a really good feeling, individually that is. Just to see all the hard work that I put in throughout the years, see if finally show. But I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for the team,” Townes said. “The coaching staff having confidence in me, and when they have confidence in a player, the sky is the limit for that player.”
Last year’s MVP Clayton Custer said he was more than happy to join the chants of “MVP” for Townes on Saturday.
“It’s really cool for our program to have two different players win it back-to-back is really awesome, super happy for Marques. He deserves it,” Custer said. “He works so hard in the summer leading up to it. I can’t think of anyone more deserving than him.”
A player worthy of praise from his hometown, and the Missouri Valley Conference that overlooked him the year earlier.