It was apparent just from one night that these are no longer your 2008-09 Loyola Ramblers. The 2009-10 version debuted against Robert Morris on Monday night with a 92-62 victory at the Gentile Center.
Loyola took a six-point halftime advantage and put the game away with an 18-0 run to start the second half. Robert Morris didn't score in the second half until 13:40 remained.
Particularly impressive was freshman forward Ben Averkamp. He started the game at forward and proceeded to display a solid face-up offensive game and a low-post game that improved as the game moved forward. While he certainly has some things to work on at the defensive end, overall he looked good while posting 23 points and nine rebounds. Averkamp also added three blocks and three steals.
After the game the freshman was very modest about his impressive performance, "I think I just have a lot to work on everywhere," he said. "I think if I can crash the offensive rebounds that will really help the team out."
The Ramblers certainly need Averkamp to continue to hit the boards. While he grabbed nine rebounds, including five offensive rebounds, the Ramblers struggled to compete with the size and athleticism of the Eagles on the boards at times. Robert Morris finished with 24 offensive rebounds.
"We have to do a lot better job boxing out and team rebounding," said Loyola head coach Jim Whitesell. "We're not the most athletic team in the world and we're going to have to work on doing it in a team-like fashion. Our little guys are going to have to get some rebounds and our big guys are going to have to hold their post a little longer."
But that was the only worrisome trend on an otherwise very successful debut for a new-look squad.
The Ramblers were much more successful at the accomplishing their other two keys to the game. After a first half in which Loyola turned the ball over 11 times and had just eight assists the Ramblers flipped the trend with 13 assists and just four turnovers in the second half.
Ball security was something Whitesell talked to his team about at halftime, "We really talked about that and how we have to be a lot stronger with the basketball," he said. "They were just taking it away from us."
Having 20 minutes to work together also seemed to help the Ramblers. After a rocky first half Courtney Stanley was arguably the best player on the court during the second half. He provided a steady hand, picked his spots on offense and finished with nine points, four assists and one turnover in 24 minutes. The Ramblers went with two point guards for most of the game to keep the Robert Morris press at bay so fans also got a long early season look at Gabe Kindred, whose only recorded on the box score was one foul in 10 minutes of work, and Aric Van Weelden. Van Weelden had two points, seven rebounds, two steals and four assists in 19 minutes.
"Aric is kind of a guy that we know," Whitesell said. "We know he's going to be solid. He can set our offense and when we're in disarray he's a good guy to come in. He's like middle relief. A lot of times Aric finishes the game because he knows what to do."
The game also marked the return to significant action for forward Andy Polka. Polka finished with seven points and four rebounds, but he was also Loyola's best interior defender and had two blocks and five assists. Walt Gibler played excellently in relief of Polka. Gibler finished with 15 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes.
Overall it was an excellent start for the young Ramblers squad.
- Good effective field goal percentage: 60.7% is unbelievable. Excellent teamwork and shot selection.
- Good assist to turnover ratio: The first half was rough, but finishing at 21-15 is a solid start for a team just getting to know each other. The 13-4 ratio in the second half was very good.
- Poor defensive rebounding rate: Allowing your opponent to grab 49 percent of their misses isn't going to be good enough most nights. That will need to improve going forward.