Loyola head coach Jim Whitesell said that he had never seen a team shoot 73.9% in a half and be down by 8. Well, until Thursday, when the Ramblers trailed Youngstown State by that margin. But maybe the Ramblers needed something odd to happen in order to break their 4-game losing streak. They finally broke through with a 92-85 overtime victory over the Penguins.
Courtney Stanley scored 18 points and dished out 9 assists and Geoff McCammon added 25 points in 45 minutes of action as Loyola managed to escape and improve its record to 4-8 in Horizon League play.
"We realized our season was on the line," Stanley said. "At this point we've got to win. ... It's do or die right now."
Stanley had to play 44 minutes because Loyola's other lead guard, Terrance Hill, was ejected just four minutes into the game after an altercation with Youngstown's DeAndre Mays.
The entire game was filled with passionate play. The Ramblers were fighting for their season and the Penguins were in no mood to go quietly in a winnable Horizon League contest.
"I knew they were going to come out fired up," Stanley said. "I knew there would be some scuffles. ... It's basketball. It's competitive."
With Hill out and Aric Van Weelden and Jordan Hicks nursing injuries on the sideline the Ramblers played with a very short bench. Five players played 32+ minutes. Ben Averkamp - 12 points and 4 blocks, Walt Gibler - 10 points and 7 rebounds, and Marcus Thomas, 17 points, all scored in double-figures.
The senior Thomas was particularly vocal for the Ramblers at halftime. After Loyola had fallen down by 8 points at half Whitesell credited him with being a vocal, and positive, influence in the locker room.
"You say it as a coach all you want, but as soon as a kid says it you see some heads nodding," Whitesell said.
Thomas was also a steadying force on the court. He shot 4-6 from beyond the arc in 41 minutes because of Hill's absence. He and Averkamp also formed the defensive backbone of the Ramblers' comeback, which held Youngstown to just 25 points in the second half.
Kelvin Bright led Youngstown with 22 points.
Now the Ramblers have a tough game on Saturday against Cleveland State as they try to protect their home court. Whitesell hopes Thursday's victory gives his team a bit more conference.
"I think when you lose, you lose some confidence," Whitesell said. "It wasn't like we've fallen apart. We've got to get tough here."
A 14-7 overtime period was toughness. Hopefully Loyola can carry that momentum moving forward.