CHICAGO – For a little bit at the end of the second half on Saturday night at Gentile Arena, it looked like a nightmare scenario might be developing for Loyola.
After leading by 16 points in the first half against Southern Illinois, Porter Moser watched as Evanston native Lance Jones gave the Salukis a lead in the second half. Jones, who would finish with 30 points on the night, would step to the line for three free throws with 21 seconds left and his team down by two.
If the guard hit them all, it could have meant that the Ramblers had no control over their Missouri Valley Conference championship hopes. Luckily for them, Jones made his first two shots but missed the third after a timeout, and the game went into overtime.
That’s when Loyola’s luck completely turned over the next hour-and-a-half, and it was all for the good.
Needing a win in their season finale to clinch a share of their third regular season conference title in four years, the Ramblers outscored SIU 9-2 in the extra session to get the 65-58 win. Cameron Krutwig led the way with 20 points in his final game at Gentile Arena, and his hoop in the closing seconds of overtime gave Loyola their 16th Valley win of the season.
Fellow senior Lucas Williamson contributed 13 points to the effort as well, as he and Krutwig now have three conference titles on their resume. But their good luck was about to continue about two-and-a-half hours south of Chicago.
Bradley, who has struggled for most of the season, pulled off arguably the biggest upset of the MVC season in Peoria against Drake. With the Bulldogs needing a win to get a share of the title, the Braves pulled out a 67-61 victory, giving Loyola the championship alone.
That mean’s that the Ramblers will have the No. 1 seed for the “Arch Madness” conference tournament next week in St. Louis. Had Drake won, they would have gotten the top spot since they owned an opponent head-to-head tiebreaker.
Moser and the 21st-ranked team finished the regular season 21-4, likely earning an NCAA Tournament bid no matter what they do in the conference tournament. Having dealt with an unusual season due to the pandemic, this MVC title is a little more special than most for the coach.
“All that these young guys have had to overcome, with the setbacks, the shutdowns, the back-to-backs, the no socialization. I think we held the outright lead for two days from beginning to now,” said Moser. “That’s a mental long, long haul to reach the goal of winning a conference championship. So this is a special one, No fans to get you going, and they’ve had to endure a lot.
“This group has been resilient.”
Now they are a champion thanks to quite a Saturday to end February.