There is a new top team amongst Chicago's Horizon League squads after Loyola took down UIC, 55-50 last night at the Pavilion. It was the Ramblers' first victory over the Flames at the Pavilion since 2006. The 5,666 in attendance certainly did a great job of giving the game a big game atmosphere and both teams played very hard.
"[The fans] were great, not just our students but people around Chicago. I thought a lot of people showed up and supported us," said UIC guard Robo Kreps. "Loyola's fans showed up too and supported them. It was a great atmosphere."
It was Loyola's defense that made the difference down the stretch. After a Kreps three tied it at 46, the Ramblers held the Flames without a field goal over the final 8:41 of the game. Kreps finished with 20 points on 20 shots in the game.
The Ramblers got all the offense they would need from Geoff McCammon. He was blisteringly hot from beyond the arc on Friday. He shot 6-7 from three-point range and scored 26 points - a career high. McCammon might've scored even more points if he wasn't limited to 24 minutes of play from chasing Kreps all over the court.
"I knew him in high school and he's always been a great player and a
great shooter and it's not easy guarding a guy like him," McCammon said.
Both teams banged in the post as the referees allowed them to play physically in the post. The Ramblers out-rebounded the Flames 41-31. Loyola didn't allow too many second-chance opportunities as they grabbed 30 defensive rebounds.
Besides McCammon nobody had a particularly special game for the Ramblers. Ben Averkamp played solid low post defense and had 5 blocks, 8 boards and 6 points and Courtney Stanley finished with 6 points and 7 assists.
"I don't think if any of said we had a good game besides Geoff we'd be lying," said Loyola forward Andy Polka who had 4 rebounds and 5 assists. "The most important thing is we got back on defense and stopped them. A lot of guys contributed and did the little things."
It was back-and-forth the entire game. There were 7 ties and 9 lead changes. This is a series that has historically been close. The last 9 meetings between the two teams had been decided by an average of 6.4 points per game.
"I felt like we answered back pretty good the whole game," Kreps said. "There's a lot of ups and downs to those games. Tonight unfortunately they made more plays than we did in the end."
With the win the Ramblers went from 9th to 7th in the Horizon League in efficiency margin. They are now 3-4 in conference and 12-5 overall. Loyola had a tough game coming up against league favorite Butler on Thursday at the Gentile Center. There are still some things the Ramblers must work on though. While the three-point shooting was solid on Friday, 8-19, Loyola committed 16 turnovers.
For the Flames it is time to prepare for Valparaiso on Thursday. They fell to 1-6 in conference and 5-12 overall. UIC played with the energy and intensity that has become the Flames' calling card at home, but it wasn't enough to offset the deep bench of Loyola. All of UIC's starters played 35+ minutes with Kreps playing the entire 40 minutes. While no one else was in double-figures, 3 players - Jeremy Buttell, Brad Birton and Zavion Neely - scored 8 points.
Down the stretch easy missed baskets by Neely and Kreps cost the Flames a chance at victory. Those shots have to go in for UIC to win in the Horizon League.
Of course the Flames get another shot for city supremacy on Saturday, February 13.